The Supreme Court of Texas ruled Friday that these five citizens may refine and continue their lawsuit against the city, but most justices agreed they had not sufficiently shown how the city broke the new law.
Dubbed the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill while it was still traveling through the Texas legislature, the law says governments in Texas may not “take any adverse action” against people for their contributions to religious groups. It authorizes anybody who alleges an “actual or threatened violation” to sue the accused governmental entity.
Despite the colloquial name, the bill took effect months after the City of San Antonio had already voted to remove Chick-fil-A from the airport. As a result, since the city council vote was legal at the time, the five citizens allege that the city continued to actively exclude Chick-fil-A from the airport after the law’s effective date in September of 2019.
The majority of the Supreme Court of Texas was not convinced.
“All of the factual allegations describing actions by the City relate to conduct that occurred at the March 21, 2019 City Council meeting, well before the statute’s September 1, 2019 effective date. There is an assertion that the City’s alleged violation is continuing in nature,” the majority opinion reads.
“But the petition alleges no facts to support this assertion; it nowhere describes any ‘action’ by the City after September 1, 2019, that could constitute a violation, as the statute requires.”
However, despite inadequate evidence that San Antonio punished Chick-fil-A for the company’s religious beliefs after the new law took effect, the court allowed the citizens the opportunity to replead their case.
“Petitioners’ pleading does not allege sufficient facts to support their assertion that the City took an adverse action on or after September 1, 2019. But neither does the petition affirmatively negate jurisdiction,” the majority opinion reads.
Justices Jimmy Blacklock and John Devine agreed that the citizens’ case can continue but said they should not have to show concrete discrimination that has already taken place just to get an injunction against the city. Instead, the two justices wrote, the citizens only need to show a credible threat of religious discrimination in the future.
“The problem for the Court’s approach, as I see it, is that the city council’s vote was not an isolated act of discrimination that had come and gone by the time Chapter 2400 went into effect. Instead, the vote established a forward-looking policy under which city staff were directed to pursue the exclusion of Chick-fil-A from the airport’s concessions contract,” Blacklock wrote.
“Courts cannot order the government not to do something it has already done, but they can order it not to continue doing such things in the future. It follows that plaintiffs seeking prospective injunctions, as these plaintiffs do, must allege a credible threat of the future enforcement they want enjoined.”
Furthermore, even though the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill became effective law after the city council vote, Blacklock and Devine suggested that the vote may have violated existing constitutional protections on religious freedom.
Notably, the Chick-fil-A company itself is not a party in this case.
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