Texas Cheerleaders Score Win for Religious Freedom

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Cheerleaders from a southeast Texas high school can continue to display Bible verses on their banners at football games, a judge ruled.

Last fall an atheist group filed a complaint with the school superintendent of Kountze, Texas, saying scriptures should not be allowed on sports banners. But the cheerleaders argued that was a violation of their free speech and filed a lawsuit.

It all began when the cheerleaders got tired of the same old negative banners displayed at the start of football games.

"You know, in years past the cheerleaders have had messages like 'Beat the Bears,' 'Kill the Cougars,' things like that," Justin Butterfield, Liberty Institute attorney, told CBN News. 
 
Butterfield said when the cheerleaders began displaying positive, encouraging Bible verses some felt they crossed the imaginary line separating church and state. 

Watch the story on the player to see an exclusive skype interview CBN News' David Brody did with four of the cheerleaders.
 
"To be a violation of the separation of church and state, the message actually has to come from the government," he explained. "And in this case, the message has always been the cheerleaders."

"The cheerleaders came up with the idea themselves. The cheerleaders developed the messages themselves. The cheerleaders wrote the banners themselves on banners that the cheerleaders paid for themselves," Butterfield said.
 
Jeff Mateer, Liberty Institute's general counsel, was angered when the school district tried to stop the cheerleaders from displaying the religious banners.    
 
"This is just another example of where the government is telling people what they can and cannot say," Mateer told CBN News. "Well, that's not America. That's why we have a First Amendment."
 
Mateer says students need to stand up for their religious rights.
   
"As the Supreme Court has recognized, they don't lose their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse doors," Mateer continued.  "These girls are standing up for that and so this case is important because it's again telling the government 'look, you can't tell people what to say or what to think.'"
 
The battle over the banners lasted seven months.  

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.