ACLU Argues That School-Sponsored Cheerleader Banners Featuring Bible Verses Are Unconstitutional

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
September 5, 2013 5:18 pm

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HOUSTON – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas, together with a broad interfaith coalition, filed a friend-of-the-court brief today with the Texas Court of Appeals in Beaumont arguing that Kountze High School’s use of school-sponsored “run-through” banners to disseminate Bible verses at football games is unconstitutional.

As part of the pregame ceremony at KHS football games, cheerleaders display enormous banners that football players break through as they enter the field. Although the banners are prepared by the cheerleaders, school officials review and approve the messages. Last year, those messages included biblical quotes such as, “I can do all things through CHRIST which strengthens me,” and “But thanks be to God, which gives victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The brief argues that, because the school retains control over the banners’ content and gives cheerleaders exclusive access to the football field to display the Bible verses, the banners are school-sponsored and violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

“Students have a right to exercise and express their faith in a variety of ways, including by praying individually or in groups, forming religious clubs, and wearing religious jewelry and clothing,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “But students cannot be subjected to school-sponsored evangelizing as a condition of attending football games. These banners send a message to students and families of minority faiths and non-believers that they are second-class citizens within the school community simply because they are not Christians.”

Joining the amicus brief were the Anti-Defamation League; the Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Muslim Advocates; the Union for Reform Judaism; Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization; the Hindu American Foundation; American United for Separation of Church & State; and the Sikh Coalition.

“It is inconsistent with Texas values for the government to tell people what to believe,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director of the ACLU of Texas. “Faith is profoundly personal, and students should be able to attend our public schools without being marginalized or feeling pressured to conform to the majority’s religious beliefs. Let’s leave religious education in the capable hands of parents and faith leaders.”

According to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census, more Muslims live in Texas than any other state; Texas is second only to California in the number of Hindus and ranks third in the number of Buddhists.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government, including public schools, from engaging in activity that favors, supports, endorses, or advances religion.

View the brief here: www.aclu.org/religion-belief/kountze-v-matthews-amicus-brief

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