Why Fort Worth told Botanic Garden it must allow True Texas Project celebration

Everything appears in order for the True Texas Project to host its 15th birthday party at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in July.

The event was momentarily thrown into chaos after the Botanic Garden said in a Facebook comment it would not host the group over concerns about hate speech.

However, calls to the Fort Worth City Council and a threatened lawsuit led the city to change course with the city attorney’s office instructing the Botanic Garden reverse its decision.

The reasoning comes down to ownership. While the Fort Worth Botanic Garden has been run by the private nonprofit Botanic Research Institute of Texas since 2020, the site is still owned by the city of Fort Worth.

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“The city is in the process of reviewing its leases, management agreements, contracts, and rental policies for all of its facilities on a case-by-case basis to ensure compliance with current Constitutional law,” a city spokesperson said in an email to Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy.

The garden being government owned makes any action that discriminates on viewpoint a violation of the First Amendment, said Amy Sanders, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s school of journalism and media.

“What the First Amendment is designed to protect against is cities making these decisions based on viewpoints that the city doesn’t agree with,” Sanders said.

There are instances in which governments can make restrictions on speech, but they need to show a compelling reason to do so, Sanders said.

The only instances in which courts historically have sided with the government restricting the content of a person’s speech has been for national security, but that’s a very high bar, Sanders said.

Ultimately though, any rules governing speech should be applied to everyone equally regardless of viewpoint, she said.

“There are instances where we may not agree with the group’s particular ideology, but if we allow the government to restrict that group speech, then what’s to prevent the government from restricting speech that we agree with?” she said.