An east Texas cheerleading squad is at the center of the latest debate about religious expression in the public arena.
Some cheerleaders at Kountze High School, located 85 miles northeast of Houston, were writing Bible verses on homemade signs and bringing them to their school’s football games. After a complaint, the Texas Association of School Boards has advised the Kountze Independent School District to make the cheerleaders stop, according KHOU 11 News in Houston.
The station reported KISD superintendent Kevin Weldon, who heard of the complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, told parents that religious signs at school-sponsored events would not be allowed.
“It is not a personal opinion of mine,” Weldon told KHOU. “My personal convictions are that I am a Christian as well. But I’m also a state employee and Kountze ISD representative. And I was advised that that such a practice (religious signs) would be in direct violation of United States Supreme Court decisions.”
One of those Supreme Court decisions came from a Santa Fe, Texas, case where student-led prayers at games were found to be in violation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment.
The Kountze case could wind up in court, too.
This is a discrimination case, according to the Liberty Institute, which posted a story on its web site Thursday morning saying it was teaming with Beaumont, Texas, attorney David Starnes in “investigating Kountze ISD’s censorship of religious speech.”
“We are disappointed that Kountze ISD is banning student speech on banners because it is from a religious viewpoint,” Starnes said on the Liberty Institute site. “Such discrimination and censorship is unfortunate and illegal. Once we complete our investigation, we will take appropriate action.”
It sets up what could be an intriguing Constitutional battle. The Freedom from Religion Foundation’s stated purpose is to “promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism,” while the Liberty Institute’s mission is to “protect and restore America’s first and most important freedom, our freedom of religion.”
The story has quickly gained national attention and created an outpouring of local support. A Facebook group called “Support Kountze Kids’ Faith” has more than 36,000 members. Newly made signs are expected to fill the stands at the next home football game Oct. 5.
One of the cheerleaders, Ashton Jennings, told KHOU she’s glad someone complained.
“I’m actually thankful for it,” she said. “Because if someone hadn’t complained, or if there hadn’t been any opposition, we wouldn’t have this chance to spread God’s word in this big of a way.”