First Amendment

Texas Judge Temporarily Lifts Ban on Religious Banners at School Football Games

A Texas state judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing a small town school district from enforcing a ban on religious displays at high school football games and other school-sponsored events.

District Court Judge Steven Thomas set a hearing for Oct. 4 to hear arguments from the two sides, reports.

The battle over religious displays at school functions in Kountze, a town of 2,100 about 90 miles northeast of Houston, erupted earlier this week when someone complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based nonprofit that challenges any religion in public schools, about the use of run-through banners bearing Bible verses at the start of high school football games.

Superintendent Kevin Weldon, acting on the advice of legal counsel and the Texas Association of School Boards, banned the display of all religious signs and messages at school-sponsored events. But the action struck a nerve with some school cheerleaders and parents, who filed a lawsuit asserting their First Amendment right to make and display banners bearing religious expressions.

Mike Johnson, senior counsel for Liberty Institute, which represents the plaintiffs, called the case “a quintessential example of students’ private speech being censored unnecessarily by uniformed school officials.”

“This is a well-established principle of constitutional law that students don’t have to shed their constitutional rights of free speech when they enter the school house gate,” he said in a statement.

Following the judge’s ruling, religious signs and banners filled the stands at the Kountze Middle School football game against Silsbee Thursday evening.

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