A lawsuit is moving forward against Gov. Greg Abbott over his order to remove a satirical nativity scene from the Texas Capitol last year.
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Wisconsin-based group behind the exhibit, raised valid questions about free speech rights when it sued Abbott earlier this year. Abbott had asked the state Preservation Board to get rid of the exhibit, which advocated for the separation of church and state.
The preservation board had initially approved the display, which featured a cardboard cutout of the nation's founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty looking down at the Bill of Rights in a manger. Abbott, writing to the preservation board once the exhibit had gone up, denounced it as a "juvenile parody" intended to offend Christians.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks wrote Tuesday that the lawsuit should proceed because Abbott's order may have been based on the fact he simply disagreed with the viewpoint the exhibit was expressing. Groups are allowed to display exhibits in certain parts of the Capitol as long as they have a "public purpose," according to state rules.
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Abbott's office said Wednesday it was pleased Sparks did not require the state to put the exhibit back on display. "Governor Abbott remains confident that the Constitution does not require Texas to display this intentionally disrespectful exhibit," Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement.
Texas Republicans like Abbott are no strangers to these kinds of dust-ups around the holidays. Attorney General Ken Paxton recently took the Killeen school district to court over the removal of a Christmas-themed cartoon poster.