Insiders Guide: Farmers Branch, TCC and SBOE

I write Terri Burketo tell you about two recent successes and to assure you that we are not standing still while our state becomes the butt of national jokes.

This week, a federal judge invalidated Ordinance 2952, the third in a series of anti-immigrant ordinances enacted by the city of Farmers Branch. The ordinance was adopted by the City Council in January 2008. U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle’s decision forbids the city from ever enforcing the Ordinance.

In a carefully written opinion, Judge Boyle determined that the ordinance was preempted by federal law. The Court resoundingly rejected the City’s claim that it had the authority to regulate the residences of noncitizens within its borders. Noting that the city building inspector would be charged with interpreting and applying immigration information to prospective tenants, the court concluded that Ordinance 2952 “is an invalid regulation of immigration” and that the “Ordinance stands as an obstacle to the uniform application of federal immigration law.”

Together with MALDEF and the National ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project we began working to repeal these ordinances in 2006. With this third strike, we hope the city will get out of the immigration enforcement business and move on to address its municipal obligations through more constructive and constitutional local policies.

The State Board of Education is the gift that keeps on giving to late night comedians and faux newscasters. Although I, like many of you, have gotten plenty of chuckles from the laugh lines, we all know that distorting history to accommodate a religious or ideological agenda isn’t funny at all. The SBOE is no laughing matter.

Our ACLU of Texas phone lines and in-boxes have gotten a workout from those of you who are irate about the spectacle this elected body has made of our state. You know as do we that this isn’t just about being embarrassed by a bunch of extremists. It is about our shared outrage at a group of elected officials trying to use public schools to indoctrinate students while providing a substandard education that won’t equip Texas graduates to compete nationally and internationally.

While we’ve tried to respond personally to you in many instances, I want to assure you that we are on the case. Early this year our Public Education Director Dotty Griffith testified before the state board urging them not to inject religious indoctrination into social studies curriculum.

Make no mistake. We do not intend to stand by quietly while the State Board of Education launches repeated attacks on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by rewriting history one distortion and omission at a time. We are studying our options. We will continue to speak out.

In the meantime, we urge you to exercise your right to vote. Extremists got elected because not enough reasonable people took the time and energy to learn about the track records and endorsements of SBOE candidates. Reasonable people can begin to take back the SBOE in the upcoming runoff election and again at general election time.

This fight isn’t over by any means. Stand strong with us and we’ll keep you posted on what we are doing – and what we need you to do.

On another matter, it isn’t always easy being us. We are known for taking principled stands on difficult issues. Last week we won a victory for the First Amendment by defending the right of Tarrant Community College students who wanted to wear empty holsters on campus to protest laws prohibiting concealed firearms on campus.

To be clear: The ACLU of Texas does not, nor does the national ACLU, have a position in favor of or against handguns on college campuses. But what the ACLU has and always will favor is the First Amendment.

Even when an issue is controversial, every individual has a right to speak out on matters of public policy, including arguing against laws with which they disagree, in a peaceful and orderly manner. Speech, in the eyes of the First Amendment, includes not only spoken and written words, but also demonstrative conduct like wearing a symbolic armband, saluting or refusing to salute the flag, or, in this case, wearing an empty holster to convey a message about a ban on concealed weapons.

That’s the right we went to court to protect. I am proud of our legal team – Lisa Graybill and Fleming Terrell – and grateful to our cooperating counsel, David Broiles and Karin Cagle of Ft. Worth. I know you are, too.

We can’t do this work without your support. We are grateful for your financial gifts that make it possible for us to continue the fight on behalf of the principles we all hold so dear.

With liberty and justice for all,
Terri Burke
Executive Director
ACLU of Texas