Judge Rules in Favor of Cheerleaders' Religious Banners

VIDEO: God Squad cheerleaders square off against the public school on religious expression.PlayABCNEWS.com
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A Texas court judge ruled today that the signs displayed by high school cheerleaders quoting biblical verses were "constitutionally permissible," and that the Kountze High School cheerleaders could continue to display them at the school's football games.

In his ruling, State District Judge Steve Thomas said that no law "prohibits cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events.

"The evidence in this case confirms that religion messages expressed on run-through banners have not created, and will not create, an establishment of religion in the Kountze community."

The ruling ended a controversial chapter in the small community of Kountze, about 95 miles northeast of Houston.

"We're excited, relieved, and glad it's over with," Coti Matthews, mother of one of the cheerleaders, told ABC News.com today.

"We're very thrilled that the judge ruled in our favor that girls will be able to use banners with Scripture during next season's football season," Attorney David Starnes, who represented the squad in court, told ABCNews.com today.

The high school cheerleaders had sued the Kountze Independent School District after after they were told they could no longer display the banners with religious messages over arguments that it violated the First Amendment.

"The response was, this was student led, student initiated, so therefore it was private student speech," Starnes said.

Thomas Brandt, the lead attorney representing the school district, told ABCNews.com, "The school district is in the middle of this debate. They reject both of the extremes. We adopt a middle. ... We think based on the evidence, that after studying the issue, our community was perceiving the ban as hostility toward religion."

Starnes said today that he did not expect an appeal in the case

Earlier in the school year, an unidentified spectator had complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group argued that the banners amounted to a public school's advocating a particular religion, which was unconstitutional.

Banners displayed by the squad, which includes both middle school and high school students, have included such phrases as "If God Is for Us, Who Can Be Against Us Romans 8:31" and "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens! Phil 4:13."

The squad, with girls ranging from 14 to 17 years old, could be seen holding up the banners before the football team ran onto the field.

RELATED: Cheerleaders See Victory as Judge Delays Decision on Religious Banners

Pending resolution of the seven-month long case, school superintendent Kevin Weldon ultimately forced the cheerleaders to stop using Scripture on the banners.

Annie-Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation who wrote the initial letter to the school after her group was alerted to the cheerleaders' signs, told ABCNews.com that today's ruling did not come as a shock.

"It's not a surprise, but it's outrageous, she said. "If these students had put up banner saying, 'There's Only One True God, Allah,' or 'Atheists Are Right,' you could imagine the uproar. This is not private speech. These are designated students who represent the school.

"They may not use that podium to proselytize religion. If this was a Christian school -- great. Religion does not belong in our public schools," she said.

Gaylor noted that the case was decided by a local, elected judge, and said ... she hoped that students, faculty and parents in the community -- many of whom she said now felt threatened -- would step forward so that the case could go to federal court.

"People have contacted us, and they're all scared," she said.

As for the cheerleaders, Gaylor said they should know better.

"It's an embarrassment to the school," she said. "This is a bad law and even worse manners."