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Weekly Update from Attorney General Ken Paxton: November 4, 2016

Friday, November 4, 2016 – Austin, TX


Over the last few years, we have seen the consensus over religious liberty start to unravel. Not only have many organizations, which were once supportive of religious liberty, rejected it as inconvenient, but it seems as if many have forgotten why it is that American Founders listed religious liberty protections first in the U.S. Constitution. I will never forget. This past week, I had my office file two amicus briefs with the 5th Circuit. Each defended the right of Texans, and that of all Americans, to practice their faith without interference from the government.

American Humanist Association v. Birdville Independent School District

For the last year, Birdville ISD implemented a policy where students may sign up to speak during school board meetings. The students have complete control over the content of their message. The American Humanist Association nevertheless sued the district. It argued that since some of the students chose a religious message, the policy violated the Establishment Clause.

My office strongly countered. The students’ expressions constitute private speech and therefore do not fall under the Establishment clause. To the contrary, as protected by the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Free Speech clauses, students have the right to express their deeply held religious beliefs to their elected representatives in public forums without any restriction from the government. That right should not be spoiled by a hecklers’ veto.

Barber v. Bryant

The state of Mississippi took the U.S. Supreme Court at its word in Obergefell and gave religious men and women “proper protection” to exercise their faith. A lower district court, however, improperly struck the statute down. Left unchallenged, the lower district court’s opinion could potentially hurt Texas legislation offering similar protections. My brief therefore reminds the 5th Circuit of this country’s history in guarding religious freedom and urges the judges to uphold Mississippi’s common sense regulation.

In addition, my office’s fight to defend the integrity of Texas elections received an added boost. A coalition of ten states filed in support of Texas’ voter ID law, as did 32 members of Congress, who represent districts in the 5th Circuit. Their addition increases the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will grant a writ of certiorari in order to review and the reinstate the law, which I requested back in September. To date, a total of 34 states request that voters show some form of identification at the polls. I will not rest until Texas elections benefit from the same protections.

Should you wish to learn more, you can view the briefs as well as the original petition below.

Amicus Curiae: 10 State Coalition

Amicus Curiae: Congressional Representatives

Copy of the Original Petition

You can also follow us on Twitter @TXAG and like us on Facebook at the Texas Attorney General.

Very Truly Yours,

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Ken Paxton