Houston Matters

Freedom of Expression? Using Religious Messages During Public School Games

Kountze, Texas is 90 minutes northeast of Houston. The town of just over two thousand people has been at the center of a court case over the last year that pits first Amendment arguments against each other. It all started with the cheerleading squad at Kountze Independent School District. They decided to make and display […]

Kountze, Texas is 90 minutes northeast of Houston. The town of just over two thousand people has been at the center of a court case over the last year that pits first Amendment arguments against each other. It all started with the cheerleading squad at Kountze Independent School District. They decided to make and display some banners during football games that included religious messages – bible verses and the like.

The district, concerned this would look like a tacit endorsement by a state-funded public school of a specific religious expression, banned the banners. The cheerleaders sued. Hardin County District Court Judge Steven Thomas granted an injunction, and then ruled this week the banners are, in his view, Constitutional.

But is it so cut and dry? Past court rulings – including by the Supreme Court, addressing a case at another East Texas high school football game – have concluded otherwise.

So, what happens when one constitutional right – free expression – comes in contact with another – freedom from state-endorsed religion? First, we'll consider if that's actually what's happening in this case, or if there's a clear distinction with the Kountze cheerleader case that separates it from past rulings. Joining host Craig Cohen in studio is Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which advocates for non-theists, and promotes the separation of church and state. Hiram Sasser, the director of litigation for the Liberty Institute, which supports the free expression of faith in schools and universities by students, parents, and teachers. And Charles "Rocky" Rhodes, Professor of Law at the South Texas College of Law, where he teaches courses on Constitutional law and specifically, first Amendment law.

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