In 2015, the Freedom From Religion Foundation tried to put a winter solstice display up at the Texas state capitol, along with other displays, but Gov. Greg Abbott personally intervened to order its removal. A federal judge has now ruled in favor of the FFRF in the resulting lawsuit.
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.
This was an incredibly easy decision, so much so that one can only assume that Abbott knew he was going to lose and didn’t care. I think he did it solely for political reasons, to pander to his base, knowing that he would lose in court. Indeed, it’s a win/win for him. Now he not only gets to say that he stood up for the baby Jesus and Christianity, but now he can run against those evil liberal courts as well. This has been a standard Republican strategy for a very long time.
You can read the full ruling here.