Kountze cheerleaders (seated from left) Savannah Short, Macey Matthews, Kieara Moffett, and Rebekah Richardson speak to the media after Attorney David Starnes (back center), who represented the cheerleaders, announed the ruling in favor of them.
A 7-month battle for Kountze students ended with a glorious celebration when 356th District Judge Steve Thomas ruled in favor of the cheerleaders in a case that made national news.
On Wednesday, May 8, Beaumont attorney David Starnes, representing the cheerleaders, made the announcement at a press conference, calling the ruling a “huge victory.”
“Today is a great day for religious liberty throughout Texas and this country,” Starnes said. “We are so proud of these girls who stood up for their religious freedom that their forefathers gave them many, many years ago.”
In September 2012, an anonymous person contacted the Freedom From Religion organization about banners with Biblical scriptures written on them by the Kountze cheerleaders at football games.
The organization contacted Kountze ISD and former Superintendent Kevin Weldon took the district’s legal advice to ban the banners.
The protest from the organization went viral, causing the nation to focus on Kountze as it made national news.
Starnes teamed up with the Liberty Institute attorney’s in the fight after a mother of one of the cheerleaders moved forward with a lawsuit against Kountze ISD.
In October, Thomas ruled on a temporary injunction for the cheerleaders for the remainder of the football season to allow them to continue to display the signs.
A preliminary court date of June 17 had been set for trial before the ruling came on Wednesday.
Starnes and Roger Byron of the Liberty Institute addressed the media at the press conference along with four cheerleaders and their mothers, who had endured the legal battle.
“I never imagined something like this would happen or that I would be involved in something like this,” cheerleader Savannah Short said. “It was an overwhelming feeling to get the ruling that we had been in prayer about for a long time.”
The cheerleaders had decided over the summer to write scriptures on the banners and did so for three weeks before Freedom From Religion made its stance.
“All we wanted to do when we decided to make the banners was to encourage our team, the opposing teams and the fans,” said cheerleader Kieara Moffett. “We never expected this to be this huge.”
The ruling comes as a victory for the Kountze cheerleaders but Starnes says that the school district may still appeal the ruling.
“The Board of Trustees received evidence regarding the run-through banners and the impressions and sentiments of the Kountze ISD community,” read a statement on the KISD website. “And (we have) concluded that, at this time, the best procedure for the Kountze ISD community is to continue permitting such banners in the same manner in which they were permitted before former Superintendent Kevin Weldon received a threatening letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.”
Two of the four cheerleaders present at the press conference acknowledged that they are no longer cheerleaders, with one planning to focus on other activities and another transfering school districts. Both told media that their decisions have nothing to do with the lawsuit filed.
“We are thankful to David Starnes and the Liberty Institute,” said Beth Richardson, the mother of one of the cheerleaders. “They have been good Christian role models to all of us, especially to our girls. These girls aren't perfect and none of us are. It's a struggle everyday to be a Christian. But I am very proud to have the group of girls that my daughter is friends with.”