Does a “Vote the Bible” t-shirt, worn to a voting location, violate electioneering law because it may be offensive?
An election worker in Round Rock, Texas, apparently thought it did and asked citizen Kay Hill to cover it up when Hill showed up to vote Oct. 24, according to a news story in the Austin American-Statesman.
Now the incident has become a flashpoint for freedom of speech, freedom of religion and election law.
Texas Values says its vision “is to stand for biblical, Judeo-Christian values by ensuring Texas is a state in which religious liberty flourishes, families prosper, and every human life is valued.”
Hill herself appears in a YouTube video posted at the Texas Values website, in which she recounts the incident.
Hill says when she arrived to vote – wearing a “Vote the Bible” t-shirt – an election worker asked her to step into the bathroom and turn her shirt inside out because “those words may be offensive to some people.”
Hill says she responded by telling the worker that the request “was offensive to me.”
Hill eventually agreed to wear a sweater, provided by another election worker, that covered up the words on the t-shirt while she voted.
Hill says in the video she was “embarrassed” and “humiliated” and “offended myself.”
“It’s not partisan to have the word ‘Bible’ on your shirt,” says Hill in the video, also pointing out that the shirt didn’t say “Vote Republican” or “Vote Democrat.”
Williamson County has refused to apologize, with Williamson County Elections Supervisor Rick Barron saying election workers are within their right to decide whether a citizen is violating election law.
“The Texas Election Code prohibits electioneering for or against any candidate, measure or political party within 100 feet of a polling place. It also prohibits influencing a voter either by word, sign or gesture, said Barron, the elections supervisor, adding: ‘Nowadays, I think it’s politically naive to say ‘vote the Bible’ doesn’t mean to vote Republican,'” according to the news story in the American-Statesman.
“Electioneering only prohibits supporting or opposing a candidate, measure or political party,” said Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz in the article. “The Bible is not candidate or a ballot measure.”
Saenz also said Barron was name-calling by allegedly referring to Hill as “politically naive.”
Saenz has been tweeting about the case and calling attention to the fact that Fox News and Drudge Report, among numerous other outlets, have been covering the incident. Saenz appends the Twitter hashtag #teaparty to many of his tweets.
University of Texas Law Professor David Anderson told the American-Statesman it was “clear that speech that would be protected in other places can be restricted in the polling place.”
“Whether this is one of those types of speech is not clear to me,” Anderson told the paper, “mainly because this is not speech directly advancing or opposing a candidate or a proposition.”