Texas Agency Attempts to Silence Speech in the Capitol

An obscure Texas state agency is quietly attempting to squelch freedom of speech in the Texas Capitol building. 

The State Preservation Board – established in 1983 for “preserving, maintaining, and restoring the State Capitol… and grounds for the benefit of the citizens of Texas” – has recently announced a proposed rule change that would severely restrict the content they will allow for exhibits on display at the Texas Capitol.  These restrictions would harm Pro-Life advocacy in the Capitol, and Pro-Life Texans must vehemently oppose them.

Texans visiting the Capitol during the legislative session witness organizations showcasing visual displays expressing their viewpoints and advocating for policy positions.  Such displays are usually found on the ground floor of the Capitol building, near where most legislators’ offices are located.  These displays range all across the political spectrum, from education, to NASA, to more controversial issues.

These displays give voice to the free expression of ideas, raise awareness about certain problems, and offer solutions to those who govern our great state – and to the citizens who come to the Capitol to petition their representatives.  However, this proposed rule would prohibit any content that speaks to a “contemporary political controversy” or is “sensationalistic, gruesome, or obscene.”  Through this rule, the State Preservation Board is attempting to classify all displays as “government speech,” which would then allow the Board to control the content and manner of speech of all posted displays in the Capitol. 

This proposed rule change seems to target only specific organizations or issues that some bureaucrats view as “sensationalistic, gruesome, or obscene.”  And the Pro-Life movement is no stranger to facing censorship due to sharing the basic biological facts of fetal development or relating the personal stories of victims of the anti-Life 10-Day Rule; there is good cause to believe that under this rule, bureaucrats hostile to our cause would deem the Pro-Life message as too “sensationalistic” for public display.

Currently, if a group wishes to have a display in the Capitol, the group follows the State Preservation Board’s website form to fill out information about the exhibit, pays a fee, obtains a legislative sponsor, and explains the exhibit’s “public purpose.”  The current definition of “public purpose” is that the general public “must have a direct interest in the purpose and the community at large is to be benefitted” and to promote “public health, education, safety, morals, general welfare, security, and prosperity” of all Texans.  Under the new rule, this definition would be changed in several problematic ways, including stripping the promotion of “morals” as a legitimate public purpose.

Visual displays are a form of free speech and are protected by the First Amendment.  The Pro-Life movement must fiercely protect freedom of speech, because this freedom is integral to breaking through our culture’s apathy so that we are able to testify to the gruesome reality of abortion and euthanasia.  While rule changes may often seem insignificant and boring, the administrative rules process is one of the most powerful ways in which state policies are practically implemented.  Because the rules process is often overlooked, unelected bureaucrats have incredible leeway and power in furthering an agenda that may be out of step with the majority of Texans.

We urge you to join us in stopping this cowardly infringement on our First Amendment rights:

  • Proposed rules are required to provide the public with an opportunity to submit comments on them. Submit your public comments on the State Preservation Board’s proposed rules, asking that they withdraw these speech-strangling rules and leave the current definitions as they are. Send your comments to Roderick.Welsh@tspb.texas.gov with the subject “Comment to Rule” before June 21!  
  • Notify your state representative and state senator that you oppose these dangerous changes to the State Preservation Board rules and ask that they get involved in stopping them to protect our First Amendment rights.