KOUNTZE, Texas — A Texas state appeals court has upheld the right of high school cheerleaders to display Bible banners at sporting events, but stated that because the school district has since changed its policy to likewise allow the banners, the lawsuit surrounding the matter is now moot.
As previously reported, public school cheerleaders in the tiny east Texas community of Kountze has been fighting since 2012 for the right to display banners with inspirational Bible verses at sporting events. Following a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, school officials had ordered the cheerleaders to stop including Scriptures on their signs. However, the Liberty Institute—a religious rights organization—then legally challenged the school’s action, and in May of last year, a Texas judge ruled that the banner displays were constitutional.
But as the Kountze Independent School District (ISD) appealed the decision, the case soon made its way to Texas’ Ninth District Court of Appeals. On Thursday, while upholding the cheerleader’s right to display the banners, the court ruled that the case is now moot because the district had since altered its policy.
“Not only has Kountze ISD formally adopted a new policy since the initiation of the underlying lawsuit, it has made judicial admissions in the pending litigation to affirm its new policy and its future intentions regarding religious content on the run-through banners,” Justice Charles Kreger wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.
“With the adoption of Kountze ISD’s new policy, there is no evidence that Kountze ISD has prohibited the speech of the students, such that we would be required to determine whether a violation of their free speech right has occurred,” he continued. “Parents cite to no evidence in their brief to this court and we find no evidence in the record that under Kountze ISD’s new policy, the cheerleaders’ speech has been prohibited. We conclude the allegedly wrongful behavior has passed and cannot reasonably be expected to recur.”
Kountze ISD Superintendent J. Reese Briggs applauded the decision, stating that the he believes the controversy is over.
“Kountze ISD permits cheerleaders to include a wide variety of appropriate messages on run-through banners, including Scripture quotations,” he said in a written statement. “The decision of the Beaumont Court of Appeals makes clear that Kountze ISD took action to resolve this controversy and that there was no reason to enter a judgment against the school district.”
But Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of the Liberty Institute, said that while he was glad that the rights of Kountze cheerleaders are protected, he wished the ruling would have extended further.
“The district court and our state’s leading lawyers and officials, such as Attorney General Abbott, former Attorney General John Cornyn, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz and former Solicitor General Jim Ho, all agree that the school district violated the cheerleaders’ constitutional freedoms and religious liberties, and granted them relief for that reason. The Court of Appeals did not disagree with any of that,” he said. “While we are grateful we have won on behalf of these cheerleaders and their right to quote the Bible in their school district, why shouldn’t future cheerleaders in Kountze and other school districts receive the same protection?”