Reflecting on 2015, the biggest news of the year, significant laws and court rulings have affected Texans’ personal freedoms.
The Standard breaks these down with the inaugural Texas freedom index with the help of David M. Gonzalez, a criminal lawyer at Sumpter & Gonzalez in Austin.
“The few bills that were passed by the Texas legislature, I don’t think increased the amount of privacy that you have in Texas,” he says. “It’s actually the Supreme Court that in 2015 has given us a bit more privacy, both from cell phones searches as well as your rights to say expressive conduct online that might be viewed as offensive, but ultimately not criminal.”
Right to Privacy: 4
“There have been no additional freedom or restriction on Roe vs. Wade. You do see some restrictions on the implementation of some bills that were passed in previous sessions, specifically related to restrictions on who can provide abortions and when a minor can be able to get an abortion from a judge without having to tell her parents.”
Religious Freedom: 5
“It depends again on which side you view your religious freedoms, because those that saw the Supreme Court, constitutionally forbid restrictions on same-sex marriage had huge concerns that this was an affront to their religious freedom. At the same time, two important cases involving those of the Muslim faith both saw protections for the use of head scarves in job application interviews, as well as the right to grow beards in prisons.”
Freedom of Speech: 8
“It’s interesting, you have the Supreme Court . . . talking about these restrictions and the actual federal statute being unconstitutionally restrictive on speech. You have the third court of appeals in Texas when it looked at the coercion of a public servant statute, as again, being to restrictive on speech, so the courts, even the court of criminal appeals, in striking down some cases has these concerns, but the Texas legislature actually has drafted some very, very broad bills that criminalize certain types of revenge speech, using intimate photos or harassing speech or doxing police officers with open records requests. So there’s the tension between the courts and the legislature.”
Freedom of Association: 6
Agrees freedom has increased. “Even though Texas does not currently allow people of the same sex to marry under the Supreme Court’s view, we also can’t pass laws discriminating against them if they choose to do so.
Freedom Against Discrimination: 5
“Our pregnancy discriminations, for a UPS case involving a pregnant woman who was needing job accommodations. And we just argued a few weeks ago, the case involving Fisher to the Supreme Court. So there’s a lot of questions on affirmative action and discrimination, some that we still don’t know and how it’ll affect Texas as well as our public university enrollment.”
Guns and the 2nd Amendment: 8
“A good year for CHL holders, cause a lot of the new policies starting on the first of January allow people who have a CHL to both open carry, you’ve got campus carry, as well as the accidental, leaving a gun in your suitcase, when you go through the metal detectors at the airport, now no longer being a felony offense.
Add those together and divide by 6, the inaugural freedom index comes out to a rating of 6.
“On balance, I think it was a good, stable year in Texas,” Gonzalez says.