Last year, a Texas judge issued a temporary order permitting cheerleaders at a Texas high school to display banners emblazoned with Bible verses and other religious messages during football games. On Wednesday, the same judge made that order permanent. As a result, signs such as this one will continue to be a regular fixture at these public high school football games:
As ThinkProgress previously explained, this case is troubling in no small part because these cheerleaders are receiving favorable treatment compared to another Texas cheerleader who alleged that she was raped. In the alleged rape case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a cheerleader could be required to cheer for her alleged rapist because in her “capacity as cheerleader, [she] served as a mouthpiece through which [her school] could disseminate speech namely, support for its athletic teams.” Public school cheerleaders, according to the Fifth Circuit, speak on behalf of their government-run school when they cheer.
But, in the Supreme Court’s words, the “First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” If cheerleaders are speaking on behalf of their public school, then they cannot display religious banners because doing so is not neutral on the subject of religion.
Admittedly, the decision this week came from a state court judge, while the Fifth Circuit is a federal court, so the Fifth Circuit’s decision is not binding on the Texas judge. Nevertheless, the Constitution’s requirement for church/state separation is binding upon state court judges. And, at the very least, alleged rape survivors should not face less favorable laws than everyone else.