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Bonnen supports removing Confederate plaque

Good.

Rep. Eric Johnson

After a yearlong push to remove a controversial “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque from inside the Texas Capitol, momentum appears to be picking up steam.

On Monday Gov. Greg Abbott announced a Jan. 11 meeting of the State Preservation Board that oversees the Capitol grounds and the likely next Texas House Speaker said he supports removing the plaque, The Dallas Morning News first reported. The plaque, which was erected in 1959, asserts that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, who is expected to lead the lower chamber next year, applauded Abbott’s efforts and voiced his support for removing the plaque.

“I commend the Governor for calling this meeting to begin the process of removing the confederate plaque from the halls of the State Capitol,” the Angleton lawmaker said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “It is historically inaccurate, and I stand by those who have called for its removal.”

Abbott called the meeting in a letter, which did not specify an agenda, to preservation board executive director Rod Welsh. But a spokesperson for the board told the Tribune this afternoon that this will be the Abbott-led board’s first meeting since March 2017, and word of it comes nearly two weeks after Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion saying the Legislature or the panel is among those who have the power to unilaterally remove the plaque.

Additionally, the meeting will fall three days after the start of next year’s legislative session, when Bonnen is expected to take over the speakership. Both the Texas House speaker and the lieutenant governor serve as co-vice chairs on the preservation board under Abbott.

See here, here, and here for the background. It should be noted that outgoing Speaker Joe Straus also supported the removal of this mendacious plaque, so Bonnen’s support is maintenance of the status quo and not a shift in the politics. It’s still the right thing to do and he deserves credit for it. The key is whether Greg Abbott will join in and do what needs to be done to finish the job. We’ll find out on January 11.

AG rules Confederate plaque can be removed

Let’s get a move on then.

Rep. Eric Johnson

The Texas Legislature or a state board chaired by Gov. Greg Abbott can remove a plaque in the Capitol honoring Confederates, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a published opinion Wednesday, providing clarity to a longstanding question over who has the power to do so — and how it can be done.

The “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque, which asserts that that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery,” had been the cause of controversy for lawmakers for months. Several have called it offensive and historically inaccurate.

Last October, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, called for the plaque’s removal and submitted a formal request to do so to the Texas State Preservation Board, which is chaired by Abbott and includes four other Republican elected officials and one citizen representative. Johnson, whose office is near the plaque, renewed those calls on Wednesday, noting that his request was never approved.

“They could take it down before the end of business today,” he said in an interview. “There shouldn’t be any confusion that the method I’ve chosen to go about this is the right one.”

Abbott said following a meeting with Johnson last year that he would have the preservation board “look into” how to remove the plaque. Paxton’s opinion made clear that three groups could make that decision: the Legislature, the Texas Historical Commission or the preservation board.

And any legislator can submit a form to request the removal of a “monument or memorial” — as Johnson did — and submit it to the preservation board, Paxton said. The curator of the Capitol, who works for the board, can approve the change — or the board has the discretion to do it itself.

See here and here for the background. Rep. Johnson is correct that he has done all the right things, and he has every reason to expect that the Preservation Board, under Greg Abbott’s direction, will follow through. And when they don’t – because honestly, no one should expect Greg Abbott to show leadership or do the right thing when it doesn’t advantage him – he will surely file a lawsuit. That can all be easily avoided, if Greg Abbott does his job. We’re all waiting.

Lawsuit over secular nativity display will proceed

Merry secular Christmas, y’all.

A lawsuit is moving forward against Gov. Greg Abbott over his order to remove a satirical nativity scene from the Texas Capitol last year.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Wisconsin-based group behind the exhibit, raised valid questions about free speech rights when it sued Abbott earlier this year. Abbott had asked the state Preservation Board to get rid of the exhibit, which advocated for the separation of church and state.

The preservation board had initially approved the display, which featured a cardboard cutout of the nation’s founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty looking down at the Bill of Rights in a manger. Abbott, writing to the preservation board once the exhibit had gone up, denounced it as a “juvenile parody” intended to offend Christians.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks wrote Tuesday that the lawsuit should proceed because Abbott’s order may have been based on the fact he simply disagreed with the viewpoint the exhibit was expressing. Groups are allowed to display exhibits in certain parts of the Capitol as long as they have a “public purpose,” according to state rules.

Abbott’s office said Wednesday it was pleased Sparks did not require the state to put the exhibit back on display. “Governor Abbott remains confident that the Constitution does not require Texas to display this intentionally disrespectful exhibit,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement.

See here and here for the background. I agree with the ruling, I support the FFRF’s lawsuit and I expect them to prevail, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Abbott doesn’t really care about the outcome of the case. He’s already gotten what he wanted out of this, which was to send a message to his supporters that he was there for them, giving the finger to those godless liberals who sneer at them all the time. Win or lose in court, he gets to polish his bona fides – hell, from that perspective, he’ll be even happier to lose, as that feeds the siege mentality. It’s of a piece with him ridiculous Twitter fight with non-Trump elector Chris Suprun. I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of this stuff over the next four years. The Dallas Observer has more.

Freedom From Religion Foundation sues Abbott over Bill of Rights display

From their press release:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit today against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over his removal of the group’s Bill of Rights display from the Capitol.

Abbott downed FFRF’s solstice display, intended to counter a Christian nativity scene in the Statehouse, only three days after the permitted display had been erected on Dec. 18.

The whimsical exhibit commemorated the “birth” of the Bill of Rights, depicting the Founding Fathers and the Statue of Liberty crowded adoringly around a manger scene containing the constitutional document.

FFRF obtained a permit last summer for the December display, and a Texas legislator sponsored it. Also approved was an explanatory Winter Solstice sign promoting state/church separation, which pointed out that the Bill of Rights was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791.

Abbott, who chairs the Texas State Preservation Board that approves Capitol displays, sent a letter Dec. 21 to co-defendant John Sneed, the board’s executive director, advising him to remove the FFRF display. Abbott lambasted the exhibit as indecent and mocking, implied it would promote public immorality, had no educational purpose and compared it to “Piss Christ,” a controversial 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano showing a plastic crucifix in a jar of urine.

FFRF’s federal lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Texas, Austin division, charges that Abbott and the other defendants violated the free speech, equal protection and due process rights of the organization.

The defendants’ action shows “unambiguous viewpoint discrimination” and was also motivated by “animus” toward FFRF and its nontheistic message, the state/church watchdog group contends. Such action violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by favoring the “stand-alone Christian nativity scene” and disfavoring FFRF’s “nontheistic content.”

The organization’s legal complaint details a “history of hostility directed against FFRF” by Abbott when he was the state attorney general. In December 2011, Abbott, on Fox News, told the group to keep out of Texas, stating: “Our message to the atheists is: Don’t mess with Texas or our nativity scenes or the Ten Commandments.”

In October 2012, Abbott again attacked FFRF during a press conference: “We will not allow atheist groups from outside of the state of Texas to come into the state to use menacing and misleading intimidation tactics to try to bully schools to bow down at the altar of secular beliefs.”

As governor, Abbott has assailed FFRF for asking the Brewster County’s Sheriff’s Office to remove crosses from patrol vehicles, and has complained when Orange, Texas, took down a nativity scene from city hall at the organization’s behest.

“Gov. Abbott has consistently advocated for displays of religion in the public sphere, while actively opposing any expression of nonreligious principles,” FFRF notes.

The group is seeking a judgment that each defendant violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and clauses protecting free speech and equal protect rights and due process rights of the plaintiffs. It is asking for damages and reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. I said at the time of Abbott’s tantrum that if it wasn’t the FFRF’s intention to file a lawsuit over this then they were wasting everyone’s time. I’m glad to see they were indeed serious about this. We already know that abbott applies religious principles arbitrarily, and I suspect he’s about to learn a lesson on that. I can’t wait. The Express News, the Current, and the Scoop Blog have more.

Maybe we just shouldn’t have nativity scenes on government property

Seems like the obvious answer to me.

A “winter solstice” display by the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been ordered removed from the Texas Capitol after Gov. Greg Abbott called it a “juvenile parody.”

The display had been approved by the State Preservation Board, of which Abbott is chairman, after it was sponsored by state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin.

Howard said she never saw it, but said it was described to her as a poster showing the nation’s founding fathers gathered around a manger with the U.S. Constitution inside. It was hung in the Capitol basement rotunda on Friday, she said.

On Tuesday, Abbott wrote a letter to the executive director of the Preservation Board asking that it be removed. The board’s staff had approved it, but Abbott said the display is offensive, doesn’t serve a public purpose and doesn’t educate viewers.

“Far from promoting morals and the general welfare, the exhibit deliberately mocks Christians and Christianity,” said Abbott’s letter, which also called it a “juvenile parody.”

[…]

Howard said she was frustrated by the decision. The Capitol has a Nativity scene display outside and multiple Christmas trees. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a right to express its beliefs, too, she said.

“In light of all of the rhetoric around the First Amendment, it appears to me that this is going in the exact opposite direction,” she said.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation describes itself on its website as a non-profit that seeks to “promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.”

Earlier this week, Abbott released a statement expressing support for a Nativity scene outside the municipal building in the city of Orange. He said in that statement that Orange had a Constitutional right to display the religious image.

He cited the Constitution again in his letter Tuesday.

“The Constitution does not require Texas to allow displays in its Capitol that violate general standards of decency and intentionally disrespect the beliefs and values of many of our fellow Texans,” he wrote.

Well, there’s one way to settle this, and that’s in the courts. I mean, if it wasn’t the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s plan all along to file a lawsuit once their display was predictably removed, then it really was no more than a juvenile parody. So come on, FFRF. Be like the Baphomet supporters and follow through. There’s a principle here that Greg Abbott is either willfully denying or just not able to see, and he needs to be made to understand it. The Statesman, the Current, and the Press have more.

Legislators ask for a task force to review Capitol monuments to the Confederacy

Fine by me.

On the same day that the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from its Capitol grounds, five Democratic lawmakers asked Gov. Greg Abbott to consider the appropriateness of the Confederate monuments at their own Capitol.

In a letter sent Monday to Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, Democrats in the House and Senate asked for the creation of a task force to consider whether the numerous Confederate monuments, markers and statutes on the Capitol grounds are “historically accurate, whether they are appropriately located on the Capitol grounds, and whether any changes are needed.”

The letter was signed by state Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sylvester Turner, all Houston Democrats; state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

“As these debates play out across our country and state, we ask you to consider the Texas Capitol itself: the building in which we have the honor of working on behalf of all Texans,” the letter reads. “The Texas Capitol grounds feature numerous monuments dedicated to the Confederacy, many of which espouse a whitewashed version of history.”

[…]

There are more than a dozen markers on the Capitol grounds that overtly reference the Confederacy, according to the State Preservation Board. Those include a Confederate Soldiers’ Monument on the south grounds and several portraits that hang in the Capitol chambers.

In the letter, the lawmakers cited the need to assess certain markers — including a plaque in a first-floor corridor of the Capitol honoring the “Children of the Confederacy” — that “assert the outright falsehood” that the Civil War “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

The lawmakers asked that the task force be made up of business, religious and education leaders to allow for a “serious conversation about how best to honor Texas’ heritage and past – while at the same time ensuring historical accuracy and that we celebrate figures worthy of our praise.”

The letter they signed is here. I doubt this will go anywhere – Greg Abbott doesn’t appear to care, as there’s no votes in it for him – but as with HISD schools, I favor having the conversation. And let’s be clear, these are monuments to people who took up arms against the country in defense of slavery, and these monuments were not contemporaneous remembrances but recent additions, put up in defiance of desegregation and the civil rights movement. At a time when we are seeking to distort and deny our own history about the Civil War, this discussion couldn’t be more timely and necessary. This issue is not going to go away. Be sure to see RG Ratcliffe for more.

Metal detectors at the Capitol

After the gunfire incident at the Capitol last week, you’d think this wouldn’t be too controversial.

The day after a shooting outside the state Capitol, lawmakers on Friday suggested that metal detectors to the building entrances were imminent, a move Gov. Rick Perry suggested he would not likely support.

“I’m always up for looking at new ways to protect our citizens, but the last thing I want is for the Texas Capitol to turn into DFW Airport,” Perry said Friday after accepting endorsements by the Texas State Rifle Association and National Rifle Association.

[…]

Detectors at the entrances were being considered even before the shooting, said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the Senate Administration Committee.

“One of the things that we need to do is a better job of checking people before they actually get into the building,” Williams said Friday. “It’s an unfortunate part of the world that we live in. ”

Sen. Dan Patrick, whose office was visited by the gunman before the incident, and who creeped out his staff enough to make them alert the cops, expressed similar sentiments as well. Neither of them is an advocate for gun control, so I’m not sure what Governor Perry’s concern is. I mean, courts across the country have metal detectors because of an outbreak of courtroom shootings, of which Ellie Nesler was probably the most notorious. You can’t get into Houston’s City Hall without passing through a metal detector. It’s not exactly a revelation that people who pack delusions, grudges, and weapons will be drawn to government buildings, and it’s not a radical idea to think that maybe we should do something to stop them before they get inside. I suspect this is a fight the Governor will lose.