Pastors’ Free Speech Rights Silenced by Capitol Bureaucrats

Texas pastors could find themselves embroiled in another legal battle after government bureaucrats moved to prevent them from engaging in free speech.

On Monday, the State Preservation Board rejected a request by the Texas Pastor Council to display signs with conservative messages inside the Texas Capitol as lawmakers debated privacy protection language.

The request was made last week by conservative activist Nubia Devine, the wife of conservative Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine, and sponsored by State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park). According to documents provided by Cain’s office, Devine had requested permission to install a pro-privacy exhibit with “signs on easels with phrases ‘Pass Them All.’ ‘Daughters over Dollars,’ and ‘Privacy over Predators.’”

In an email sent to Devine, Capitol Events & Exhibit Coordinator Robert Davis wrote:

“The State Preservation Board cannot approve the reservation of the South Central Gallery for an exhibit display at this time. Please see the public purpose requirement for all exhibits below.  §111.13

 

(3) Public purpose–The promotion of the public health, education, safety, morals, general welfare, security, and prosperity of all of the inhabitants or residents within the state, the sovereign powers of which are exercised to promote such public purpose or public business. The chief test of what constitutes a public purpose is that the public generally must have a direct interest in the purpose and the community at large is to be benefitted. This does not include activities which promote a specific viewpoint or issue and could be considered lobbying. Political rallies, receptions, and campaign activities are prohibited in the public areas of the Capitol.”

Davis’ reply implies that Devine’s request, which aimed to “bring attention to local anti-discrimination ordinances that allow men in women’s restrooms” failed to pass the public purpose test because it promotes a specific issue or viewpoint.

The problem?

Just last week the Capitol was filled with signs opposing the passage of privacy protection legislation, all bearing the message “#YallMeansAll.” In a brazen display of hypocrisy, those left-wing signs were approved by the Preservation Board– a point made by Reverend Dave Welch, the head of the Texas Pastor Council.

“We are shocked that such a blatant double standard exists in the Capitol building of the Lone Star State in which freedom is embedded in our state’s DNA,” stated Welch. “The censoring of pastors was very explicitly rejected by this very legislature yet now Robert Davis is attempting to silence us once again.”

 

“We will not be silenced in the pursuit of what is right and will not tolerate this kind of hypocrisy by employees of our own state government,” he added. “The very issue we are standing for with SB 3 and HB 46 is that God-given, constitutionally recognized rights should be protected equally for all citizens, including women and children where they deserve it the most in a vulnerable condition.  We expect the same in our First Amendment freedom of speech.”

Cain agreed, saying that the Preservation Board’s decision is very troubling for Texans’ freedom of speech.

“By allowing opponents of the Privacy bill to speak through their signs but not the Texas Pastor Council, the State has engaged in viewpoint discrimination. This is something the First Amendment does not tolerate. Furthermore, the reason given by the State, that the signs are “overtly political”, reveals the State’s bias against speech it disagrees with,” said Cain. “This has been a trend nationally for some time, but it’s particular concerning to see it happen in the Lone Star State.”

In the face of clear bias, Devine, Welch, and the Texas Pastor Council are considering legal action against the State Preservation Board, a move that would place them on a collision course with powerful lawmakers. Like other Capitol agencies such as the Legislative Budget Board, the State Preservation Board is administered by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Joe Straus, and their appointees.

Currently the board is comprised of the aforementioned “Big Three” as well as State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham), the author of the Texas Privacy Act, State Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth), and Iris H. Moore, an Abbott appointee.

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Cary Cheshire

Cary Cheshire serves as Vice President of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, the premier project of Empower Texans. A 6th Generation Texan, Cary attended Texas A&M University was active in a number of conservative causes including Ted Cruz's Senate campaign. He has also worked on campaigns to elect conservatives to both Congress and the Texas Legislature. Cary enjoys college football, genealogy research, and the occasional craft beer.

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