Kountze Independent School District v. Matthews

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
September 2013
Status: 
In fall 2012, Kountze Independent School District in Texas received an anonymous complaint regarding religious banners at one of its high school’s football games. Cheerleaders had written religious messages on “run-through” banners, including messages referencing “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” and being able to “do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” The school district asked the cheerleaders to stop displaying religious messages due to Establishment Clause concerns. 
 
In response, the cheerleaders filed suit in state court, arguing that the school district had violated the Texas Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act by prohibiting religious speech. In October 2012, the trial court issued an order permitting the cheerleaders to continue displaying religious messages for the rest of the season. In April 2013, the school district adopted a policy allowing the cheerleaders to deliver religious messages at football games. Although it was no longer a contested issue, the trial court later ruled that the banners did not violate the Establishment Clause. Because the trial court did not dismiss the cheerleaders’ claim for attorney’s fees, however, the school district appealed.
 
In September 2013, we filed an amicus brief in the Texas Court of Appeals. Joined by the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, and a number of other religious liberty organizations, we argued that the cheerleaders’ religious banners violate the Establishment Clause, because they are delivered at school events, by a school-sponsored organization, to a captive audience of students. In May 2014, the Court of Appeals of Texas dismissed as moot all appeals related to substantive issues and sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether the cheerleaders are entitled to attorneys' fees.
 
The cheerleaders appealed the case to the Texas Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that the school would violate their rights were it to disallow their religions signs--although the school continues to permit them. In July 2015, we filed an amicus brief in the Texas Supreme Court, again arguing that the cheerleaders' religious banners violate the Establishment Clause. 
 
In January 2016, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the cheerleaders on the issue of mootness only, reinstated the lawsuit, and returned the case to the lower court for further proceedings. 
 
The case is currently pending before the Texas Ninth Court of Appeals.