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Texas Steps in Ring to Defend Biblical Banners

DALLAS (CN) - High school cheerleaders should be allowed to display Bible verses on banners at football games, Texas' attorney general said Wednesday.

Attorney General Greg Abbott has intervened in a complaint cheerleaders filed against the Kountze Independent School District in Hardin County Court. The teenagers claim that the district banned the display of the religious verses in the face of objections from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

"Those banners, which the cheerleaders independently produce on their own time with privately funded supplies, are perfectly constitutional," Abbott said in a statement. "The state of Texas intervened in this case to defend the cheerleaders' right to exercise their personal religious beliefs - and to defend the constitutionality of a state law that protects religious liberties for all Texans."

Abbott says the district is misinterpreting the establishment clause and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2000 that held student-led prayers at high school football games violated the clause.

"The Texas Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act requires school districts to treat a student's voluntary expression of religious views in the same manner that the district treats a student's expression of any other point of view," Abbott said. "The act authorizes students to express themselves individually - or in groups - in the same manner as students involved in secular or non-curricular activities."

Abbott said neither the act nor the Constitution allows government officials to ban all public references to religion. He urged the court to dismiss the school district's defense.

Superintendent and named defendant Kevin Weldon said on the district's website "we were pleased to have the opportunity to explain the district's position regarding this matter in court, recognizing that Kountze ISD must follow all applicable laws in its operations, even if this practice is at times in conflict with personal beliefs of administrators and board members."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a history of complaining about a public display of religion in Texas. In December 2011, it complained to Henderson County commissioners in east Texas about the annual display of a nativity scene during Christmas at the county courthouse.

Kountze is approximately 90 miles northeast of Houston.

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