Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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Texas Attorney General’s Office Defends Constitutionality of the Texas Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued the following statement after the State of Texas intervened in the Kountze cheerleaders’ lawsuit to defend the Texas Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act:

“After receiving a menacing letter from an organization with a reputation for bullying school districts, the Kountze ISD 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. 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.”

Media links
Texas Attorney General's petition to intervene

The State of Texas intervened in the case because the Kountze ISD’s court filing affirmatively questioned the constitutionality of state laws enacted by the Texas Legislature. In documents filed with the state district court in Hardin County, the Attorney General’s Office explained that the Texas Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act requires school districts to treat a student’s voluntary expression of religious views in the same manner that the district treats a student’s expression of any other point of view. The Act authorizes students to express themselves individually – or in groups – in the same manner as students involved in secular or non-curricular activities. Neither the Act – nor the U.S. Constitution – allows government officials to ban all references to religion from the public square. As such, the State is urging the court to dismiss Kountze ISD’s argument that the Act – or the religious messages cheerleaders displayed during football games – violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The State’s action in the Kountze ISD case reflects Attorney General Abbott’s latest effort to defend public acknowledgments of religion. The State’s religious liberties cases include:

• In 2011, the Attorney General’s Office submitted a legal brief asking a federal appeals court to uphold Medina Valley High School graduates’ constitutional rights to freely express their religious beliefs during graduation ceremonies.
• In January 2009, after Attorney General Abbott submitted a legal brief joined by all 50 state attorneys general, a federal judge cleared the way for President Barack Obama to include references to religion during his Presidential Inauguration.
• In 2007, Attorney General Abbott defeated a lawsuit that attempted to remove the words “under God” from the Texas Pledge of Allegiance.
• In 2005, Attorney General Abbott appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court and defended the State’s Ten Commandments monument, which stands on the Texas Capitol grounds. In that case, Van Orden v. Perry, the plaintiff sought to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds, but Attorney General Abbott successfully argued that the monument was entirely constitutional.
• After Attorney General Abbott submitted a legal brief defending the right of Texas schoolchildren to begin each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a minute of silence to "reflect, pray, [or] meditate" before class, a federal appeals court upheld the Texas Moment of Silence law.