— JoeMyGod (@JoeMyGod) November 16, 2017
Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls on Wednesday created a social media firestorm with a Facebook post threatening to bring disorderly conduct charges against the driver of a truck displaying a profane anti-Trump message on its rear window. Nehls told the Houston Chronicle that he had received calls, texts and emails in recent days from people who took offense at the language in bold, white lettering: “F— TRUMP AND F— YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM.” The sheriff, a Republican who is weighing a bid for Congress shared a photo on his official Facebook page in hopes that it would help to identify the truck owner. The license plate is not visible in the image.
Fort Bend County, just southwest of Houston, isn’t renowned for being a bastion of Liberal tolerance and open-minded thought. It’s about as red as red can be- residents reflexively re-elected Tom DeLay to Congress for years until his criminality could no longer be ignored. If DeLay had continued running, though, the good, God-fearing, Conservative Christian Patriots of Ft. Bend County would have continued sending him back to Washington. without so much as a second thought.
It’s also not a place renowned for its love of free speech…well, unless it’s reliably Conservative speech, that is. Donald Trump never even needed to campaign there, so guaranteed was he of carrying Ft. Bend County (and Texas). Turns out Texans LOVE them some Trump, and they’re certainly not about to tolerate anyone who publicly voices an opposing sentiment. After all, in Texas, the 1st Amendment only applies to Conservatives, amiright??
“I have received numerous calls regarding the offensive display on this truck as it is often seen along FM 359,” Nehls wrote. “If you know who owns this truck or it is yours, I would like to discuss it with you.”
Turns out, a woman who identified herself as the driver said she used to work for Nehls in the county jail.
Karen Fonseca said the truck belongs to her husband but that she often drives it. They had the sticker made and added it to the window after the billionaire real estate magnate and reality TV star was sworn into office.
The sticker has attracted attention many times before, Fonseca said. People shake their head. They take photos of it. Officers have pulled her over but failed to find a reason for writing a ticket. Now the sheriff is taking it on, but Fonseca did not plan to contact him.
In his press conference, Sherriff Nehls placed the responsibility for the “situation” on the truck’s owner. After all, such a sign might set off a “breach of the peace” by provoking someone who voted for Trump to take action. Never mind the 1st Amendment. Never mind the right of a citizen to express their opinions and beliefs. Never mind the responsibility of a citizen to refrain from violence simply because their tender sensibilities have been offended. No, the responsibility lies with the owner of the truck to refrain from pissing people off.
No one is required to like the message in the back window of the Fonseca’s truck…but neither do they have the right to suppress constitutionally-protected free speech. That’s what the 1st Amendment is about, y’all…and it isn’t applicable only to Conservatives.
As I’ve written a thousand and one times previously, free speech can be and very often is offensive, tasteless, and objectionable speech. In this case, the Fonseca’s window sticker is none of those things, though many good, God-fearing Christian Patriot in Ft. Bend County would beg to differ. It merely represents the expression of a firmly held opinion, something protected by the 1st Amendment.
You’d think Sheriff Nehls would recognize that, but, being a political animal, he’s well-versed with the need to play to the lowest common denominator. You can’t run for Congress in Ft. Bend County if you’re going to coddle evil, godless Liberals.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a conversation with the Fonsecas about the window sticker…but if it goes beyond that it falls into the realm of denying them their constitutional rights. There’s absolutely nothing wrong or illegal with the sentiment expressed by the window sticker. Texans may not agree with it, but they’re not required to. They may take offense, but that’s no one’s problem but their own.
This is clearly a free speech issue, and if Sherriff Nehls isn’t careful, he could well find the ACLU filing a lawsuit on behalf of the Fonsecas.
“It’s not to cause hate or animosity,” said Fonseca, 46. “It’s just our freedom of speech and we’re exercising it.”
Concerned that the language could incite a confrontation on county roadways, Nehls said he wanted to have a conversation with the truck owner. Trump-related stickers have triggered road-rage incidents around the country.
Responsibility for that sort of road rage incident isn’t something which should be laid on the Fonseca’s shoulders. They’re simply exercising their 1st Amendment rights. If someone takes action because they’re offended, that’s on them, and they should be held responsible. Unpopular opinions don’t provide a Patriot with the right to attempt to violently suppress said speech and expression.
A woman biking by a presidential motorcade near a Trump golf course in Virginia was photographed recently with her middle finger raised; she was then fired from her job at a government contracting firm after identifying herself as the cyclist.
Nehls wrote on Facebook that a county prosecutor had agreed to accept disorderly conduct charges — an opinion that District Attorney John Healey disputes, as does the ACLU of Texas.
“Many families have called that have seen that truck on our county roadways and are very offended by the language on the truck,” Nehls said. “I think they’re walking a fine line.”
Healey, a Republican not seeking re-election next year, said he wished the sheriff’s office had contacted him earlier about the incendiary issue. He said he did not receive a call until around the same time the comments were posted. In disagreeing with his own prosecutor, Healey noted that his office lacked any information about how the public was reacting to the truck.
“I did not believe it was a prosecutable case based on the definition of disorderly conduct,” Healey said.
The truck has every right to be on “our county roadways.” If people are “very offended by the language on the truck,” that’s their problem. In a free country, people are allowed to express themselves in ways others might find offensive. It’s called “freedom of speech and expression.” The Fonsecas simply had the courage to express their opinion. Even in Texas, I suspect there are many who feel as strongly as they do…but are afraid of the potential blowback should they take a public stand.
In Texas, that’s no idle fear. Some Trump supporters are as intolerant and reactionary as they are potentially violent and unlikely to meekly acquiesce to speech and/or expression which they find offensive.
ABC13 first tracked down the driver of the pickup truck. Karen Fonseca said she put the custom made graphic up about 11 months ago. She said her family is expressing their First Amendment rights and voicing their dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump. Fonseca said she’s surprised Sheriff Nehls couldn’t reach her. She’s open to sitting down with him.
She insisted she has no plans on removing the sign.
“It makes people happy. They smile. They stop you,” said Fonseca. “They want to shake your hand.”
Fonseca said she’s most at odds with the president about his proposed border wall.
She said people tell her they “wish they had the guts” to put up a similar sign on their vehicle.
Having lived in the Houston area (including Fort Bend County for a few months), I’m not surprised by this “controversy.” Texas Republicans are all about THEIR freedoms…but many are highly offended when those who don’t agree with them exercise theirs. They’re all about freedom and liberty…until their tender sensibilities take a hit.
I applaud the Fonsecas for expressing themselves as they’ve chosen to. I might do it a bit differently, but there’s no denying there’s nothing wrong, immoral, or illegal about their chosen means of expression. Those on “our country roadways” aren’t required to approve. They’re absolutely free to be offended and mortified as they deem necessary and appropriate. What they’re NOT free to do is impose their views and standards upon those whose public speech and expression offend them.
As for Sheriff Nehls, he’s a political animal who’s found an issue he can exploit with no potential downside. There’s no risk of alienating his constituency, most of whom would vote for a ham sandwich if it was on the ballot with an “R” behind its name. In Fort Bend County, there are no potentially adverse consequences stemming from taking on Liberals and Democrats, who are generally considered to be spawns of Satan. There’s much posturing and faux outrage to be expressed…and Nehls is well equipped to preach to the choir.