Banners at Texas H.S. football game questioned

When cheerleaders displayed a banner with Biblical verses at a high school football game in Kountze, Texas, it started a controversy over separation of church and state
CBS News

(CBS News) KOUNTZE, Texas - In Texas, high school football is often compared to a religion. Now some cheerleaders at a public high school are fighting for the right to display a banner with a distinctly Christian message.

Friday night under the lights in Kountze, Texas, with the band, the fans, the players -- and something different: a banner with a Christian message, written by the school's cheerleaders.

"We just thought that it would be a really great message to get across," said cheerleader Rebekah Richardson.

But that message is now at the center of a legal battle. The school superintendent banned the religious-themed banners last month when a Wisconsin group claimed they violate the separation of church and state. A judge has allowed the practice to continue, until he rules.

On Friday night, there were more religious signs than ever from friends and family who say the cheerleaders messages on the banners are free speech.

"Both the U.S. Constitution and the Texas constitution guarantee the right to freely express your religious viewpoint," said attorney David Starnes, whom the cheerleaders' parents have hired to keep the Christian banners.

He said because the girls decided to use the Bible verses on their own, and not the at the school's request, it's their protected speech. And even at a school football game? "Yes, even at a school football game," said Starnes.

Still, among the overwhelming support for the girls, there are signs that some believe religion has no place here, including 2005 Kountze High graduate, Lindsey Brackin.

"Once you start doing it, it's a slippery slope," she said. "Here it's a very big Christian community. But what if somebody came out and wanted to put scripture from the Koran or the Torah on it? Would it get the same positive reaction? If you do it for one group, you have to do it for everybody."

Asked if the judge said that the banners cannot be done anymore, Morgan Coplen, a cheerleader, answered: "It would be crushing to our team and the football team, and to many of our citizens."

The judge said he will hand down a decision in two weeks, but that likely will not end the legal battle, as both sides say they will continue to fight to make their case.