Paxton Works to Protect First Amendment Protections for Religious Groups Facing Unlawful Discrimination

Attorney General Paxton has joined an Alabama-led multi-state amicus case before the Atlanta-based United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit fighting to defend a synagogue’s First Amendment rights Jew facing unconstitutional discrimination.

The case revolves around the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), a state-funded transit system, which refused to allow Young Israel of Tampa to advertise its “Chanukah on Ice” program. in accordance with a policy prohibiting religious advertising. After the District Court enjoined its policy, HART appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

As courts have repeatedly held, public entities violate the First Amendment when they engage in viewpoint discrimination, regulating speech based on disagreement with the viewpoint expressed. That is precisely what HART has done here.

HART further deviated from the First Amendment by grouping all religious advertisements with more traditional categories of prohibited advertising, such as advertisements containing graphic violence or nudity. It is against the First Amendment and the American tradition of respecting religious freedom for HART to establish a moral equivalence between a synagogue hosting a community event commemorating a religious holiday and pornographic or violent advertising.

As the memorandum states:[T]the policy contradicts First Amendment history and tradition, sends the perverse message that religious speech is like other subjects prohibited by HART (alcohol, pornography, discriminatory messages, etc.), conflicts with case law modern First Amendment banning viewpoint discrimination, and even fails HART’s preferred test for content-neutral speech restrictions.

To read the complete file, click here.