Judge: Texas Gov. Cannot Block Atheist Holiday Display in State Capitol May 7, 2021

Judge: Texas Gov. Cannot Block Atheist Holiday Display in State Capitol

In 2018, the Freedom From Religion Foundation won a major lawsuit against the state of Texas. Yesterday, they did it again.

You can read all the details here, but here’s the basic summary: Because there was a Nativity scene in the Texas State Capitol in 2015, FFRF applied to put up their own display. It was a “secular Nativity” featuring the Bill of Rights, three Founding Fathers, and the Statue of Liberty. There was also a sign that wished everyone a “Happy Winter Solstice.”

billofrightsnativity

Unfortunately, Governor Greg Abbott demanded it be removed.

FFRF eventually sued over the “unambiguous viewpoint discrimination,” and in June of 2018, after a lot of legal back and forth, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled in favor of the atheists, saying that if there was an open forum in the State Capitol, the atheists had every right to put up a display there.

Abbott, however, had no desire to follow the law. He filed an appeal along with the executive director of the Texas State Preservation Board. He argued that the district court didn’t have the proper authority to decide this case.

In April of 2020, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, thankfully, in favor of FFRF. Not only was the decision unanimous, and not only did the judges say the lower court had every right to decide the case, the judges told the lower court to “issue a more expansive remedy to protect FFRF’s right to place displays in the future and to ensure a similar constitutional violation cannot happen to other organizations.”

Yesterday, Yeakel did just that. Not only did he rule in favor of FFRF (again), he went even further to make sure a Christian Nationalist like Abbott can’t censor atheists in the future:

the district court granted FFRF prospective relief by enjoining Abbott and the board from censoring FFRF’s speech in the future.

Abbott has long demonized atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, going so far as to warn FFRF “not to mess with Texas.”

“In fact it was Abbott who ‘messed’ with free speech,” comments Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “If governmental bodies create public forums, they cannot then censor unpopular or minority points of view.”

This is a great victory for free speech rights, especially of minority viewpoints, including nonreligious citizens whose voices must be equally respected,” says FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert.

Turns out you can mess with Texas. And when the person in charge is incompetent, you can win.

This was always an ignorant challenge from an ignorant governor, but the right side won once again. Should make for some interesting displays in the Capitol later this year.

(Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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