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Judge rules for cheerleaders in Bible banner suit

By: JUAN A. LOZANO,Associated Press
May 8, 2013 Updated: May 8, 2013 at 7:11 pm
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photo - 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." (AP Photo/The Beaumont Enterprise, Dave Ryan, File)
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." (AP Photo/The Beaumont Enterprise, Dave Ryan, File) 

HOUSTON (AP) — A judge ruled Wednesday that cheerleaders at a Southeast Texas high school can display banners emblazoned with Bible verses at football games.

State District Judge Steve Thomas determined the Kountze High School cheerleaders' banners are constitutionally permissible. In a copy of the ruling obtained by Beaumont station KFDM, Thomas determined that no law "prohibits cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events."

The ruling ends the case in Thomas' court, but it can be appealed by the school district.

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."

The district, which received a complaint about the banners from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, argued the banners violated a First Amendment clause that bars government, or, in this case, publicly funded school districts, from establishing or endorsing a religion.

The Liberty Institute, a Plano, Texas-based nonprofit law firm, represented the cheerleaders and argued the girls' free speech rights were being violated by the school district's ban.

"This is a great victory for the cheerleaders and now they're going to be able to have their banners," said Hiram Sasser, a lead attorney for the institute.

Thomas Brandt, the school district's attorney, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

In October, Thomas temporarily allowed the cheerleaders to continue displaying the banners pending the lawsuit's outcome. Thomas at the time said the school district's ban on the practice appeared to violate the students' free speech rights. The Liberty Institute had argued the banners' messages were not asking anyone to believe in Christianity or accept the faith.

The cheerleaders in Kountze, located about 95 miles northeast of Houston, were supported by various state officials, including Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who filed court papers seeking to intervene on their behalf. A Facebook group created after the ban, Support Kountze Kids Faith, has more than 45,000 members.

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Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed to this report.

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