Texas Supreme Court Sides With Cheerleaders in Bible Banner Feud — Here’s What Happens Next

The Texas Supreme court has ruled in favor of a group of middle and high school cheerleaders who displayed banners with religious messages on them at football games.

With the court’s decision, the case will be sent back to a lower appeals court where it was initially dropped as Kountze Independent School District decided to allow Bible verses and religious messages on the banners, according to the Statesman.

“The District no longer prohibits the cheerleaders from displaying religious signs or messages on banners at school-sponsored events. But that change hardly makes ‘absolutely clear’ that the District will not reverse itself after this litigation is concluded,” the high court said in the 8-0 ruling.

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2012 file photo, Kountze High School cheerleaders and other children work on a large banner in Kountze, Texas. A judge on Wednesday, May 9, 2013 ruled that cheerleaders at the high school can display banners emblazoned with Bible verses at football games. The dispute began during the last football season when the district barred cheerleaders from using run-through banners that displayed religious messages, such as "If God is for us, who can be against us." Credit: AP
In this Sept. 19, 2012 file photo, Kountze High School cheerleaders and other children work on a large banner in Kountze, Texas. Credit: AP

“Throughout this litigation, the district has continually defended not only the constitutionality of that prohibition, but also its unfettered authority to restrict the content of the cheerleaders’ banners — including the apparent authority to do so based solely on their religious content,” Justice John Devine wrote in the opinion.

The incidents that provoked the case began in 2012 as cheerleaders at Kountze High School decided to decorate banners for the school’s football players to run through that included Bible verses and religious messages using their own money and resources. The signs attracted the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the school district banned the banners.

A district court judged initially ruled that the cheerleaders had the right to display the banners at sporting events as they were “constitutionally permissible.” However, the school district appealed the ruling with the backing of the ACLU. The school district had decided to allow the banners but had the ability to censor them at will. The case was declared moot by the court of appeals as the cheerleaders were allowed to display the banners.

“This is an 8-0 victory for the free speech and religious liberty rights of all Texas students,” Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Institute, which helped represent the cheerleaders, told the Statesman. “In light of today’s Supreme Court ruling, we hope the (9th) Court of Appeals will resolve this case permanently in the cheerleaders’ favor.”

The case attracted the attention of conservatives nationwide, including Republican lawmakers in the state of Texas. Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn teamed up together to file an amicus brief with the high court.

“Under the United States Supreme Court’s government-speech jurisprudence the answer is straightforward: messages created solely by student cheerleaders do not become government speech simply because aspects of cheerleaders’ activities are regulated by the school,” the brief stated. “Because the messages on the banners are the cheerleaders’ messages, the content of which is not dictated by the school, the speech is not the school’s, and it does not qualify as ‘government speech.’ The speech belongs to the cheerleaders, and it is entitled to First Amendment Protection.”