County Court at Law of Cooke County, Texas
Texas Seventh Court of Appeals
A group in Gainesville, Texas wanted a Confederate monument at the local courthouse removed. So like countless Americans have done before, they gathered and peacefully marched down the sidewalk in protest. Both before and during the march, the group worked with the police to ensure a peaceful protest. The police even allowed the marchers to briefly use the road to avoid a water hazard on the sidewalk.
Three days later, three of the protesters found themselves facing an arrest warrant for violating a Texas law that prohibits “obstructing a highway or passageway.” Even worse, they soon were convicted and sentenced to jail time and a hefty fine.
This unjust result should shock anyone who cares about freedom of expression. Courts should protect Americans’ First Amendment right to peacefully protest—not jail them for it.
That’s why after the protesters appealed, FIRE filed a “friend of court” brief urging the Texas Court of Appeals to reverse their conviction and uphold the First Amendment right to collectively advocate for change. As FIRE explains in its brief, because First Amendment rights need breathing space to thrive, courts must guard against government officials distorting criminal laws to ensnare protected speech—especially when officials misuse those laws to target dissent.