|Jeanette Golden is pictured here with her husband and pastor
in front of the Ten Commandments sign on her private property.
This week, Liberty Institute—on behalf of client Jeanette Golden of Hemphill, Texas—and the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT)jointly announced an official change to TXDOT’s rules and regulations regarding private speech on private property.
Last year, Mrs. Golden chose to place a 6 x 12-foot sign on her private property displaying the Ten Commandments. Titled “God’s Ten Commandments” with a subtitle of “Jesus – With God All Things Are Possible,” the sign lists out the historic, biblical principles as found in Exodus 20:
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me
But Mrs. Golden soon learned that her sign encouraging wholesome behavior was forbidden by state law.
RESTORING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND PROPERTY RIGHTS
In February 2014, Mrs. Golden received a removal notice from TXDOT stating that her sign was non-compliant with TXDOT rules for “outdoor advertising.” TXDOT ordered Mrs. Golden to remove her Ten Commandments sign within forty-five days.
Wanting to protect her freedom of speech and defend her religious liberty, Mrs. Golden contacted TXDOT to find out what she needed to do to keep her sign. TXDOT informed Mrs. Golden that she needed to obtain an outdoor advertising permit, a minimum $2500 surety bond, and an outdoor advertising license. TXDOT also threatened that her failure to comply with these requirements could result in fines of between $500 to $1000, per day.
Mrs. Golden decided to take some time to consider her options. She contemplated the substantial time and money it would take to satisfy TXDOT’s requirements. But before she could even apply for an outdoor advertising license, she received correspondence from TXDOT’s Associate General Counsel stating that Mrs. Golden’s sign is located near a road that it is “statutorily prohibited from having signage at all and thus the sign cannot be permitted.” In other words, TXDOT instituted an outright ban on all non-commercial signs along the road adjacent to Mrs. Golden’s property. Commercial signs, however, are permitted.
Mrs. Golden then retained Liberty Institute to assist her. We immediately sent a letter to TXDOT, explaining that the forced removal of Mrs. Golden’s sign from her private property violates both federal and state religious liberty and free speech law, including the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA), the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the U.S. Constitution, and the Texas Constitution. Liberty Institute requested that TXDOT rescind its removal order, and allow Mrs. Golden to maintain her sign without the requirement of a license, bond, or permit.
At that time, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Mike Berry said in a statement: “It is outrageous that TXDOT is preventing Texans from having signs on their own private property. 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.”
TXDOT AGREES: PRIVATE SPEECH IS PROTECTED SPEECH
TXDOT responded positively to Liberty Institute’s demand, acknowledging that its rule is likely unlawful. In response, TXDOT agreed to revise its rules and regarding non-commercial signage on private property to protect individuals’ rights to freedom of speech. Once the new rule becomes final, Texans like Mrs. Golden will be allowed to freely express their religious beliefs on their private property.
Prior to the rule change, only commercial signs were allowed with a license, bond, and permit. But with today’s change in policy, signs that do not exceed 96 sq. ft. in size, sit on private property, and do not promote a business are exempt from the license, bond, and permit requirements. Mrs. Golden’s Ten Commandments sign is 72 square-feet in size and therefore satisfies the exemption criteria.
In TXDOT’s letter to Mrs. Golden announcing the new exemption, Associate General Ronald M. Johnson said:
“I personally would like to thank you and Liberty Institute for bringing this issue to our attention. The rights of the citizens of Texas are better protected today because of all our efforts. This has been a civics lesson in how democratic government is supposed to work and it would not have happened without you.”
“I always believed in my heart there would be a change in the rules that would allow me to keep my sign, as well as other Texans wanting to express their religious views on their own property,” Mrs. Golden said. “As it states on my sign, ‘With God, all things are possible.’”
Liberty Institute applauds TXDOT’s cooperation, and their commitment to amending Department of Transportation rules to reflect respect for our most sacred constitutional freedoms of religious freedom and private property rights. Berry commended the ruling as a win that “will benefit all Texans who value liberty.
HELP PROTECT OUR MOST SACRED RIGHTS
Your help is crucial to continuing a legal defense for religious liberty and the First Amendment for Liberty Institute clients like Jeanette Golden. We fight hard in all areas—in our schools, in our churches, in the public arena, and in the military—and we succeed over 90% of the time in the local, state, and federal courts. But we can’t do it alone.
Please, continue to pray that Liberty Institute’s constitutional attorneys are equipped with the proper tactics and wisdom to defend our First Freedom. And please give financially today, that we might continue have the resources necessary to fight the difficult and expensive legal battles necessary to maintain our religious freedom in America.
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About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.