AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Wednesday he will defend high school cheerleaders who want to use Bible verses on banners at football games.
Abbott has filed court papers to intervene in a lawsuit that cheerleaders at Kountze High School filed against the school district complaining that a new policy violated their freedom of speech. In September, district officials told the cheerleaders to stop using Bible verses at football games after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained.
The atheist group argued that using banners with phrases such as, "I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me," violates the First Amendment prohibition on the government establishing a religion.
After the school told the cheerleaders they could no longer use Bible verses, they filed suit in Hardin County district court. State District Judge Steve Thomas put a hold on the new school policy while he considered the arguments, and the cheerleaders continued to make the banners. He is expected to rule Thursday.
Abbott said that since the cheerleaders create the banners without school funding, they qualify as free speech and should not be banned.
"This is student-led expression, and that's perfectly constitutional," Abbott said. "We will not allow atheist groups from outside the state of Texas to come into the state to use menacing and misleading and intimidating tactics to try to bully schools to bow down to the alter of secular beliefs."
Joining Abbott at a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry said he supported the cheerleaders and denounced the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"Anyone who is expressing their faith should be celebrated, from my perspective, in this day and age of instant gratification, this me-first culture that we see all too often," Perry said. "We're a nation built on the concept of free expression of ideas. We're also a culture built on the concept that the original law is God's law, outlined in the Ten Commandments."
The case began when the foundation wrote to the school district, threatening a lawsuit. The group is dedicated to the separation of church and state and believes that religion hinders social progress.
"The speech in question is government speech or, at a minimum, school-sponsored speech," the group said in court papers. "If the majority of the cheerleaders were atheists, would a court support their 'right' to hold up a banner insulting Christianity or all believers? The district has every right to simply prohibit all run-through and on-field banners."
The group said that because of the context of a football game, it is not clear that the religious views are those of the cheerleaders, and not the school district.