Victory for Religious Free Speech in Texas

cece heil column acljCECE HEIL, ACLJ

We recently assisted the Local Knights of Columbus in New Braunfels, Texas, who requested our help regarding a law governing the display of temporary street banners in the community. The city’s original banner policy allowed banner use for advertising community events, but a recent amendment of the policy added a prohibition against “advocating a religious belief” on the banners, among other content restrictions. When the local Knights of Columbus sponsored two banners inviting the public to a musical, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” the city initially approved the banners and allowed them to be put up. However, after receiving complaints that the banners violated the “separation of church and state,” the city immediately removed the banners.

When the Knights contacted us for help, we provided information about the relevant legal principles regarding equal access to limited public forums and viewpoint-neutral restrictions, emphasizing that the city may not deny display of the street banners solely because of the religious nature of the banner’s message. The law is clear that, while a government actor is not required to open a limited public forum, when it chooses to do so, it is subject to the requirements of the First Amendment. Any restriction on speech in such a forum must not discriminate against speech on the basis of viewpoint and must be reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum. In this case, the government may not discriminate against a group, such as the Knights, which addresses a permissible subject from a religious viewpoint.

The city council reviewed the information provided and gained an understanding of the relevant legal principles. After their review, they amended the city’s street banner policy accordingly by removing restrictions on banners with religious content. We received an email from the Knights, informing us that our information was instrumental in convincing the city leadership that the best approach to religious speech in such ordinances is not to restrict it, but rather to permit it on equal footing as secular speech and saying, “Thank you again for what you and ACLJ do to assist Americans in preserving their First Amendment rights.”

We are pleased that we were able to assist the Knights of Columbus, and are committed to helping protect religious liberty in our communities when it is threatened.

The Moral Liberal recommends Jay Sekulow’s: Witnessing Their Faith: Religious Influence on Supreme Court Justices and Their Opinions

CeCe Heil is a Senior Counsel for the ACLJ specializing in public policy and global legal matters including the United Nations.

Used with the permission of the American Center for Law and Justice.