In a recent amicus brief to Texas Supreme Court, the state of Texas asks justices to protect students’ rights to free speech and religious expression.
On Sept. 28 the Liberty Institute commended Attorney General Ken Paxton for filing the brief in the case of Matthews v. Kountze Independent School District, according to a press release.
In the brief, Paxton asks the court to protect the constitutional right of Texas’ public school students to express their own private faith-based messages at school and school-related events.
“Let’s not forget that our country was founded on the very concept of religious freedom,” said Paxton in a written statement. “When our fundamental rights are threatened, we have an obligation to defend them – and I stand with the students and parents at Kountze High School who are committed to move forward in this important fight.”
Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Institute, added: “We are grateful for Attorney General Ken Paxton’s support of the Kountze cheerleaders, but more importantly, for his staunch defense of free speech and religious expression of public school students.”
In 2012, high school and middle school cheerleaders in Kountze sought to encourage their athletes with positive messages. The cheerleaders used their own money to buy supplies and create run-through banners featuring Bible verses for their school football games, according to the press release.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a complaint with the Kountze ISD over the banners. In response, the school district banned the signs. Soon after, Liberty Institute and its volunteer attorney David Starnes filed a lawsuit against the school district on behalf of the cheerleaders.
In May 2013, Hardin County Judge Steven Thomas granted judgment for the cheerleaders allowing the Kountze Cheerleaders to display run-through banners with Bible messages at Kountze ISD sporting events.
Kountze ISD appealed that order, and the Ninth Court of Appeals declared the case moot on the ground that KISD announced it would now voluntarily permit the cheerleaders to include religious messages on the banners, though KISD contends it is not bound by Texas law requiring it to allow religious speech on the banners.
On behalf of the cheerleaders, Liberty Institute, David Starnes, and appellate counsel Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher are seeking the Texas Supreme Court’s review of that decision.
The state’s brief argues the cheerleaders’ run-through banners are not government speech.
Supreme Court case No. 14-0453