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TRIAL COURT UPHOLDS CHEERLEADER BANNERS WITH RELIGIOUS MESSAGES

Case citation:  Matthews v. Kountze ISD, Cause No. 53526, 356th Judicial District, Hardin County, Texas (May 8, 2013).

Summary:   During football games at the Kountze Independent School District, a number of cheerleaders displayed banners containing religious messages.  The school district directed the cheerleaders to stop displaying the banners and the cheerleaders sued, arguing that the banners constituted private speech and did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

On October 28, 2012, the trial court entered a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Kountze Independent School District from restricting display of the banners or run-throughs at sporting events.  The district then filed a motion requesting judgment in its favor prior to trial.

Ruling:   The trial court held that the banners and religious messages did not violate the constitution.  The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from creating laws or taking action that endorses or favors a certain religion over another.  The trial court stated that the “evidence in this case confirms that religious messages expressed on run-through banners have not created, and will not create, an establishment of religion in the Kountze community.”  Thus, the cheerleader banners that included religious messages and were displayed during the 2012 football season were constitutionally permissible, according to the court.

Things to Remember:  We do not normally report decisions made at the state district court level.  But due to the publicity and interest surrounding this case, we decided to make an exception.  This decision by the local district judge does not create a precedent that other courts are required to follow, as would a decision by the Texas Supreme Court or the 5th Circuit.  We suspect that this will not be the last time we see a court ruling about this issue.