Ten Commandments Billboard under Fire in Texas
Texas under fire for banning 10 Commandments signWoman's posted it as part of her 'sincerely held religious belief'
WND.com | May 15, 2014
The state of Texas, whose lawyer joked about posting a verse from the Quran, is under fire now for a ban on a woman’s yard sign listing the Ten Commandments.
Her attorneys with the non-profit Liberty Institute contend her aim is to exercise “her sincerely held religious belief” in a “God-called mission to share the Ten Commandments.”
On Thursday, Liberty Institute dispatched a letter to officials with the state Department of Transportation, asserting their censorship of the sign belonging to Hemphill, Texas, resident Jeanette Golden runs afoul of a number of laws.
The organization cites the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other Texas laws along with the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Liberty Institute, according to a copy obtained by WND, contends Texas has misapplied the Texas Transportation Code to Golden’s sign, burdening her free exercise of religion.”
The letter is from Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Michael Berry to Joe Weber of the Texas Department of Transportation.
“It is outrageous that TXDOT is preventing Texans from having signs on their own private property,” said Berry. “Religious freedom and private property rights are some of the most sacred rights Texans and Americans enjoy, dating back to the founding of Texas and our nation. It is also shocking that a TXDOT attorney would belittle the religious beliefs of Texans.”
He was referring to a quip in an email exchange among Texas officials discussing how they could take down the Ten Commandments sign.
“Boy are you guys in trouble! I wonder how they’d feel about a quote from the Quran?” said an email from Ron Johnson, associate general counsel of the state highway agency.
The posting of the Ten Commandments in schools, public buildings and even some churches has been opposed in court for years by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
Liberty Institute was retained by Golden after the state ruled that her Ten Commandments message was illegal and must be torn down. The decision came after officials earlier had said she needed a permit for it.
According to an email from the TXDOT associate general counsel, “the sign cannot be permitted” and “no permit is possible.”
Last August, Golden bought a six-foot by 12-foot sign listing the Ten Commandments, then placed it on her own private property.
Liberty Institute told to Weber to consider the letter the official notice of the constitutional violations.
“Mrs. Golden is called by God to a ministry of placing the Ten Commandments on her private property in full view of the public for the purposes of advancing her religious calling and this action is advancing her sincerely held religious belief in this specific God called mission to share the Ten Commandments in this manner with as many people seeing the display as possible,” it said.
She originally listed her source on the sign, a ministry called Godss10.com, but removed the reference when state officials complained it was commercial.
However, she soon discovered that state officials simply refused to allow the sign on state Highway 21.
The state ordered her to remove the source because it was deemed “outdoor advertising” and she would need a permit.
Then the story changed again, and this time there were requirements that the sign be located within 800 feet of two Certified Industrial Activities, and it would need to be sized to meet state rules.
Texas also wanted Golden to get an outdoor advertising license, at $125, an annual renewal fee of $75, a $2,500 surety bond, a permit application $100, its annual renewal of $75 or face fines of up to $1,000 per day.
Then the state changed course yet again, with a statement that the sign “cannot be permitted” under any circumstances.
“Such a total ban on Mrs. Golden having a sign or imposing additional restrictions is a substantial burden on her religious calling and mission of displaying the Ten Commandments in the manner she was called to do on her private property and the state has no compelling interests to support such a total bans,” the letter said.
The legal team also noted there are other signs along that section of highway that the state is not addressing.