Legal battle against religious expression continues in Kountze ISD

Lazaro Hernandez

As the legal battle over religious expression at a Texas public school continues, the state has officially taken action to intervene.

Gov. Rick Perry held a press conference Wednesday to discuss the lawsuit over the Kountze Independent School District’s rule preventing cheerleaders from holding banners with Bible verses on the field at football games.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced at the press conference he had filed a motion to take part in the lawsuit.

“We will not allow atheist groups from outside of the state of Texas to use menacing and misleading intimidation tactics to try to bully schools to bow down at the altar of secular beliefs,” Abbott said at the conference.

Abbot is widely known for successfully advocating the state’s right to display the Ten Commandments in front of the Texas Capitol during the 2005 Van Orden v. Perry U.S. Supreme Court case.

At the conference, Perry said the Kountze cheerleaders should be allowed to show religious materials because that expression is protected by freedom of religion. He said he’s glad Abbott plans to become involved in the case.

“It is frankly astonishing that, here in the 21st century, we have to go to court to fight for [religious freedom],” Perry said. “In Texas, we’re lucky to have an attorney general willing to fight those battles, and I applaud General Abbott for his efforts to support and liberate the people of our state to worship, or even simply make a reference to their religion, as they see fit.”

The legal battle began after the Kountze school district received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation saying the cheerleader’s banners, which included Bible verses, violated constitutional doctrine. The organization advocates for the separation of church and state. After consulting with two lawyers, school officials stopped the cheerleaders from displaying the banners. The cheerleaders then hired lawyers to fight against the school’s decision.

Kountze ISD Superintendent Kevin Weldon said in a statement to the media that the school district works hard to foster an atmosphere that values the voices and opinions of all students, teachers and the community.

“We were pleased to have the opportunity to explain the district’s position regarding this matter in court, recognizing that Kountze ISD must follow all applicable laws in its operations, even if this practice is at times in conflict with personal beliefs of administrators and board members,” Weldon said.

Currently, no academic or administrative unit from the University is allowed to discriminate against student groups on the basis of a religious viewpoint expressed on a sign, according to UT’s Institutional Rules on Student Services and Activities.

At the conference, Perry promised the state Legislature will continue to find ways to preserve religious expression during the upcoming legislative session.

“As government leaders, we owe it to people of all religions to protect expressions of faith, to ensure everyone has the right to voice their opinions and worship as they see fit,” he said.

Printed on Thursday, October 18, 2012 as: Kountze ISD cheerleaders spark debate in state court