Do Texas Cities Unlawfully Restrict Free Speech of Pro-Lifers?
The pro-life movement cannot function without free speech. Sidewalk counseling, public rallies and protests, lobbying, public education, and political advertisements — all require various forms of free speech. My staff and I monitor regulations on all of these very closely.
That is why a recent blog post on website of the Texas Home School Coalition caught my eye. In the blog post Joshua Newman, a homeschool graduate, student at Collin County Community College District, and grassroots director for the THSC’s lobby efforts in the Capitol, criticizes the City of Corsicana’s police for issuing citations to leaders of a protest at the October 30 campaign event for State Rep. Byron Cook.
The protesters failed to get a parade permit, required by city ordinance for an assembly of 25 or more people. The “Quorum Report,” an online news outlet that covers legislative and political issues, described the event and has interesting body camera video of the officer issuing the citations, which are similar to a traffic ticket.
In his article, Newman claims the police actions are “blatant violations of free speech,” but I disagree.
First, Rep. Byron Cook is strongly pro-life, and he has lead the House State Affairs Committee that has substantially advanced the pro-life legislative agenda in Texas for the last six years, as explained by other pro-life leaders and me. Those advancements include the sonogram bill in 2011, HB 2 in 2013, and five major pro-life bills in 2015. Texas Alliance for Life recently gave him our “Courageous Defense of Life” award to recognize his efforts.
Second, Corsicana’s parade permit has nothing to do with limiting free speech, and everything to do with protecting people and property.
The permit that the protesters failed to get from the City of Corsicana is entirely free. There is no charge. However, there is a two-week notice required. That makes the intent of the ordinance abundantly clear — it gives local police notice of gatherings so they can prepare and respond appropriately.
Local ordinances like the one in Corsicana are common, and they probably have been for decades. It makes good sense for cities to have them. And all of those cities allow free speech to go on, and it does.
I was at Rep. Cook’s campaign event in Corsicana, and I was among the many supporters inside, 100-200 or more. I saw the protesters outside, probably several dozen, standing on the side of a rural road without sidewalks on a very dark and rainy afternoon and evening. After sunset, protesters were in nearly complete darkness. The police helped guide cars away from the protesters for their own safety.
Perhaps the leaders of the protest neglected to make a phone call in time to learn that. Is it fair for them to blame the Corsicana Police for their own mistake?
Andrew Smith, state director of the Texas Pro-Life Action Team, wrote, “I’ve been doing public protests for 15 years, and I always contact police beforehand to ensure our own protection, for one, but also to ensure that all laws are followed. We get nowhere when we make law enforcement the enemy. We also get nowhere when we make pro-lifers the enemy.”
Third, the leaders involved in the protest should know better. Like Texas Alliance for Life, they have organized rallies and other events on the Texas Capitol grounds, particularly the south steps and inside the building, many times over the years. They know well such events require permits, fees, and even a state official sponsor such as a member of the Legislature. This is to be expected when people or organizations use a public forum for private speech. Very reasonable, and in no way an impermissible limit on free speech.
I have yet to see these leaders claim the Texas Capitol’s requirements violate their right of free speech. And they do not.
To protest against pro-life Rep. Byron Cook — one of our best pro-life members of the House — is imprudent, disingenuous, and totally undeserved. But it is certainly within the rights of those who chose to do so. However, they need to follow the reasonable rules and not blame cities and police for their own mistakes. Lack of integrity does not help the pro-life movement.