Current Law – Designed to be Punitive – Requires Houses of Worship and Businesses Wanting to Prohibit Firearms to Post Oversized, Visually Unappealing Signs
Everytown and Moms Demand Action Have a Long History of Fighting These Discriminatory Laws
HOUSTON — A Houston church and a local business have filed a legal challenge to a state law making it burdensome to prohibit firearms from private Texas properties, arguing that the state’s onerous and costly signage requirements for private properties seeking to prohibit guns infringe on their First Amendment right to free speech. Everytown Law and the law firm Jones Day represent the plaintiffs.
“Decisions about how to protect worshippers and create a welcome environment are important to any congregation, and the requirements we’re challenging make those decisions far more complicated,” said Bruce Beisner, minister of the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston. “Our hope is to make it easier for houses of worship across the state to put in place the practices around firearms that make sense for them.”
“This law is clearly designed to punish small businesses that want to prohibit guns on their premises and it makes it harder for us to succeed in an already difficult financial climate,” said Dawn Callaway, owner of Antidote Coffee Shop in Houston, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. “Other states have created signage laws that don’t interfere with the rights of property owners without justification, and Texas can, too.”
“The intent of the Texas signage law is to punish people who have a certain viewpoint, and that is not allowed under the U.S. Constitution,” said Alla Lefkowitz, director of affirmative litigation at Everytown Law. “There is absolutely no evidence that requiring property owners to put up multiple large signs on the front of their property announcing that they do not allow guns – each required to meet a myriad of arbitrary standards – is tied to any legitimate governmental need. The goal of this law is to be as burdensome as possible.”
“Private businesses and houses of worship are entitled to protection from irrational government interference,” said Charlotte Taylor, partner at Jones Day. “They should not be forced to post signs akin to scarlet letters because they have decided to take reasonable, fact-based steps to protect their customers and employees.”
In the ten months after Texas passed its open carry law in May 2015, Texas Moms Demand Action volunteers signed up more than 600 Texas businesses – including Texas institutions and major chains like HEB, Fiesta Mart and Luby’s Cafeteria – to prohibit open carry. Moms Demand Action volunteers have gone door-to-door, educating business owners on the law and building an online resource center to help concerned businesspeople navigate the restrictive and detailed signage requirements for prohibiting open carry.
As detailed in the complaint:
- If a Texas property owner chooses to keep firearms off their property, they must put up at least three different signs to do so – one for concealed carry of handguns; one for open carry of handguns; and another for long guns – measuring multiple square feet.
- By contrast, many states require a single sticker or sign with a simple picture that measures just a few inches in each direction.
- Texas’ signage law includes several arbitrary requirements — such as letter size — that also make it difficult, if not impossible, to print the signs at home. And unlike other state-mandated signs, the signs under the laws being challenged are not provided for free by any state agency.
- The plaintiffs seek a court declaration that the challenged requirements are unconstitutional, as well as an injunction preventing enforcement of them.