Sunday, October 15, 2017

Texas Engaged In Viewpoint Discrimination In Removal of Bill of Rights Nativity Display

In Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Abbott, (WD TX, Oct. 13, 2017), a Texas federal district court held that Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas State Preservation Board violated the free speech rights of Freedom From Religion Foundation when, at the governor's order, FFRF's Bill of Rights nativity display was removed from the state capitol rotunda where it had been erected under a limited public forum policy. (See prior related posting.)  The governor claimed that the display did not serve a "public purpose" because of its mocking and satirical tone.  The court held that whether the exhibit was removed because of its satiric tone or because of its non-theistic point of view, either motive constitutes impermissible viewpoint discrimination.

The court went on to deny summary judgment to defendants on FFRF's Establishment Clause claim because material questions of fact remain as to defendants' purpose in excluding the exhibit.  It rejected the governor's claim of qualified immunity as to the free speech claim, but granted it as to the Establishment Clause claim. Friendly Atheist blog has more on the decision.