Monthly Archives: October 2017

Texas Governor Abbott Loses Censorship Suit!

BREAKING NEWS!
FFRF WINS, TEXAS GOV. ABBOTT LOSES IN SOLSTICE CENSORSHIP SUIT

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has prevailed in federal court against Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who ordered the removal of FFRF’s winter solstice Bill of Rights Nativity from the Texas Capitol in 2015.

FFRF can Sue Governor Greg Abbott in his Personal Capacity!

In his decision, handed down late on Friday, Oct. 13, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks for the governor greg abbottWestern District of Texas – Austin Division,  ruled that Abbott violated FFRF’s free speech rights.

FFRF had placed a duly permitted display celebrating the Winter Solstice and Bill of Rights Day, in response to a Christian nativity at the Texas Capitol. The display, depicting founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty celebrating the birth of the Bill of Rights (adopted Dec. 15, 1791), had the requisite sponsorship from a Texas legislator.

Abbott, as chair of the Texas State Preservation Board, ordered FFRF’s display taken down only three days after it was erected, lambasting it as indecent, mocking and contributing to public immorality.

“Defendants have justified removal of FFRF’s exhibit by arguing the exhibit’s satirical tone rendered it offensive to some portion of the population. That is viewpoint discrimination,” writes Sparks in a 24-page ruling. The court also held that a reasonable official in Governor Abbott’s position would have known that removing FFRF’s display based on its viewpoint would violate FFRF’s First Amendment rights, thus FFRF can sue Governor Abbott in his personal capacity.

“It is ‘beyond debate’ the law prohibits viewpoint discrimination in a limited public forum,” Sparks ruled.

Judge Ruled in Favor of FFRF Deposing Governor Greg Abbott!

Sparks did not find that Abbott’s actions violated the Establishment Clause.  He also ruled in FFRF’s favor that FFRF has the right to depose the governor for one hour. Abbott had fought the request for a deposition.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor praised the ruling as a very strong decision for FFRF, for free speech and for the rights of nonbelieving citizens. “We’d rather keep divisive religious — and irreligious — views out of state capitols. But if the government creates public forums, and permits Christian  nativities in them, there must be room at the inn for the rest of us.”

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 29,000 nonreligious members. It requested the right to put up a December display at the request of some of its more than 1,200 Texas members.

The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Governor Greg Abbott, Cause No. A-16-CA-00233-SS. FFRF was represented by Attorney Richard L. Bolton with FFRF Attorney Sam Grover as co-counsel. More history about the case may be found here.

FFRF is a National watchdog for violations of our 1st Amendment, specifically involving the Separation of Church and State. If you see an violations and need help or support you can Contact FFRF National. There are also dozens of local chapters, see Local Chapters.

Freedom from Religion Metro Denver Chapter is one such very strong local chapter. FFRF Metro Denver, as well as National and most local chapters, is a non-profit 501(c)3.  The Metro Denver chapter’s mission is to participate on the local level to safeguard the constitutional provision of church/state separation, with a primary focus of educating others in the community on this critically important issue.

For tax-deductible donations see FFRF Metro Denver Chapter.  To join the Denver Chapter visit FFRF Metro Denver Membership.

Freedom of Speech and Football

O say can you kneel? Free speech and football

By Andrew L. Seidel
Director of Strategic Response
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Freedom of speech is both a constitutional right and a core American value. As a constitutional right, it means the government cannot limit your right to speak.

Obviously, private employers aren’t the government. Private organizations can regulate the speech of employees and participants. This is bad news for those receiving tips at Cold Stone Creamery and has implications for the NFL players who choose not to stand during the national anthem. It’s also bad news for two students who were humiliatingly forced off their private, Christian football team, by their pastor coach for choosing to peacefully protest during the national anthem.

The government can regulate the conduct of its employees. In fact, the Constitution requires the government to regulate employee speech while they are on the clock—under the Establishment Clause government actors may not endorse religion while representing the government. Teachers in public schools don’t have a free speech right to preach to other people’s children because they are acting as government employees and bound by that clause.

But in most cases, the government cannot put speech demands on private citizens, including students in our public schools. The recent political push to force citizens to stand during the national anthem has bled into the public schools, where kids are beginning to emulate professional athletes and are becoming more politically aware as a result.

Piety and patriotism never mix well. Religion suffocates dissent, our Constitution enshrines it. Image via Shutterstock/Igor Stevanoic. Public schools, such as Parkway High School in Bossier Parish, La., are bound by the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Speech Clauses. That means the school cannot punish a student for exercising his or her First Amendment rights, including the right to “take a knee” for the national anthem. (It’s nice to see the prayerful import of “take a knee” morph into something more secular and worthwhile.) If a school punishes such a student, it is violating the free speech clause of the U.S. Constitution. We’re looking at you, Parkway High.

The Supreme Court ruled more than 70 years ago in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that compelling a student to recite the pledge and salute the flag infringes upon a student’s First Amendment rights. The Barnette ruling was issued more than a decade before Congress divided “one nation, indivisible” by inserting “under God” into the then secular pledge. The court explained, in truly eloquent language, the limits on our government:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

Damn right. FFRF attorneys regularly quote this fine prose in our complaint letters. Those letters are often sent to protect nonreligious students who don’t want to stand for a pledge to one nation, under a god that they do not believe in.

The opposition to protests during the anthem will inevitably bleed into the public schools. This threatens nonreligious students who want to sit down for their rights and opt out of the pledge. If you or your child or a friend see this happen, please report it to FFRF legal using this web form. FFRF is here to protect the rights of these brave children.