POSTED: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - 11:04am
UPDATED: Friday, December 14, 2012 - 4:03pm
TEXAS — Gov. Rick Perry emphasized Texas' commitment to protecting religious liberties for all, supporting Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's efforts to intervene in court on behalf of students at Kountze High School who want to display religious language at school sporting events.
"As government leaders, we owe it to people of all religions to protect expressions of faith, to ensure everyone has the right to voice their opinions and worship as they see fit," Gov. Perry said. "During the upcoming session, we'll continue to find ways to preserve religious expression and explore ways to protect people of faith from this ongoing onslaught."
The case involves cheerleaders at Kountze High School, who paint banners with scriptures from the Bible to inspire the football team before games. After being ordered to stop by the school district, the students and their parents sued the district in state court. The attorney general is intervening in the pending lawsuit.
"After receiving a menacing letter from an organization with a reputation for bullying school districts, the Kountze Independent School District improperly prohibited high school cheerleaders from including religious messages on their game day banners. Those banners, which the cheerleaders independently produce on their own time with privately funded supplies, are perfectly constitutional," General Abbott said. "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."
Gov. Perry signed House Bill 3678, the Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act, in 2007 to reiterate a student's right to religious expression and clarify permitted religious language for teachers and administrators. The law requires a school district to treat a student's voluntary religious expression the same as a student's expression of any other viewpoint on a permissible subject. The legislation also allows students to express themselves in the same manner as students involved in secular or non-curricular activities.
The law is aligned with the U.S. Department of Education's Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, making it clear that students may pray or study religious materials during non-instructional times. The law also allows students to express religious beliefs in homework and assignments and be judged by ordinary academic standards. Additionally, the law clarifies that religious groups have the same access to school facilities as other non-curricular groups.