The Law Applies to Me, But Not to Thee?

by Dan Quinn

Liberty Institute/Texas Values, the lawsuit-happy Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family, has now decided to harass election workers and officials in Williamson County just north of Austin. The workers’ offense? Enforcing state laws barring electioneering and trying to influence voters within 100 feet of a polling location.

The religious-right group claims that a woman’s rights to vote and to free speech as well as her freedom of religion were violated last week when poll workers told her that a T-shirt she wore urging people to “Vote the Bible” was not permitted in the early polling location at Taylor City Hall. According to a complaint Liberty Institute/Texas Values has filed with Williamson County’s election administrator, poll workers told the voter that she would either have to conceal the “Vote the Bible” message or wear a different shirt before being allowed to cast a ballot. One of the poll workers even offered to lend the voter a jacket to wear over her T-shirt — an offer the voter accepted.

Nonetheless, the voter suffered from “embarrassment, humiliation, intimidation and fear of retaliation,” Liberty Institute/Texas Values bizarrely charges. The group also claims that the state law against electioneering at a polling location doesn’t apply in this case because it “only prohibits supporting or opposing a candidate, measure or political party, so ‘Vote the Bible’ doesn’t fit within this definition.”

Section 61.003 of the Texas Election Code does, in fact, prohibit a person from electioneering “for or against any candidate, measure, or political party” within 100 feet of the door to a polling location. Section 61.008 of the Election Code also would seem to apply here:

“UNLAWFULLY INFLUENCING VOTER. (a) A person commits an offense if the person indicates to a voter in a polling place by word, sign, or gesture how the person desires the voter to vote or not vote.”

It seems evident that the woman wearing her “Vote the Bible” T-shirt did, indeed, seek to indicate “by word, sign or gesture” how voters should “vote or not vote.”

Liberty Institute/Texas Values charges that poll workers told the woman that some voters might find her T-shirt “offensive.” Of course, we don’t know what poll workers actually told the woman — we have only the word of the lawyers at Liberty Institute/Texas Values at this point. But, yes, we can imagine that some voters might be offended to see someone trying to influence their vote at a polling location in apparent violation of the law. That would also likely be true if they saw people inside a polling location wearing T-shirts calling on others to “Vote against the rich,” “Vote for the middle class,” “Vote more taxes” or “Vote Big Oil.” Should religious messages be exempt from the law? What if groups decided to fill a polling location with signs calling on people to “Vote the Quran” or telling them that “Jesus Would Vote for Universal Health Insurance”? Would Liberty Institute/Texas Values see a problem with that?

The truth is that the litigation addicts and bullies at Liberty Institute/Texas Values often send out their lawyers to sue school districts and other public entities in attempts to stir up hysteria about supposed anti-Christian discrimination in a nation where nearly 80 percent of the population itself is Christian.

Now the group is targeting officials in Williamson County, where — by the way — Republican Gov. Rick Perry bested his Democratic opponent Bill White by more than 20 percentage points in 2010 and John McCain won by 13 percent over Barack Obama in 2008. (In short, Williamson County is hardly a hotbed of anti-Christian bigotry.)

Liberty Institute/Texas Values is demanding that Williamson County officials issue a public statement supporting a right to wear a “Vote the Bible” T-shirt in a polling location, circulate a memo to county employees affirming the same thing, and issue an apology to the woman in question for causing her “embarrassment, humiliation, and intimidation.” Otherwise, the group threatens to file a formal complaint with the Texas Secretary of State. It’s easy to see the next step being a courtroom.

Well, we have a better idea — the bullies at Liberty Institute/Texas Values should apologize to Williamson County taxpayers for wasting their time and tax dollars with a self-serving political complaint. Meanwhile, everyone should treat their fellow citizens with common courtesy and obey state laws by not electioneering and trying to influence their decisions inside a polling place.