DALLAS, August 4 – A judge in Watauga, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, just dismissed criminal charges against a man exercising his free speech by holding a political sign outside a polling location during the March primary election. Chris Howe, a politically active Tea Partier, is represented by Liberty Institute and has now been cleared of all criminal charges.
“This is a great victory for freedom and every U.S. citizen,” said Kelly Shackelford, president/CEO for Liberty Institute and a constitutional scholar. “What happened here was a gross violation of the Constitution, and we are weighing all legal options for the future. This violation not only affected Chris Howe, but every citizen who would want to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Howe was arrested and imprisoned for five hours on March 2 for holding a sign with the words, “Medina for Governor,” over 100 feet away from a polling location. He was charged with violating Watauga?s political sign ordinance and temporary sign ordinance. The judge?s ruling finds that the City of Watauga cannot prosecute Howe because Texas Election Code pre-empts Watauga’s code. Howe?s sign was confiscated and has not been returned.
When questioned by the judge, the city’s attorney admitted that Watauga’s political sign ordinance could actually be applied to any political speech on any public property, even cars with political bumper stickers driving on city roads and citizens wearing political lapel pins while standing or walking on a sidewalk.
“I am relieved that the judge was willing to listen to reason, but I am determined to make sure that this doesn’t happen again to anyone else,” said Howe.
“Stopping government abuse and holding government accountable is exactly what tea parties and other citizens are trying to accomplish,” said Shackelford. “This victory is a microcosm of that battle.”