In Fort Bend County, Texas, the debate over free speech has come down to a now-infamous bumper sticker: “FUCK TRUMP AND FUCK YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM.”
Last week, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls suggested in a Facebook post that the owner of the truck bearing the remark could be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after the sheriff’s office received complaints about it. That owner happened to be Karen Fonseca, who, a day later, was arrested on an outstanding warrant on fraud charges from 2015. Nehls, who is considering a bid for Congress in 2018, later deleted the Facebook post. Then, over the weekend, Fonseca struck back in her own way, adding another decal to her white GMC Sierra: “FUCK TROY NEHLS AND FUCK YOU FOR VOTING FOR HIM.”
— KSAT 12 (@ksatnews) November 20, 2017
On the steps outside the Bend County Justice Center on Monday morning, Fonseca’s attorney, Brian Middleton, told reporters that the sheriff’s actions suggested that Nehls “intended to deny [Fonseca] of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech.” KHOU in Houston reported on Monday that Fonseca is now considering a civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff. Nehls’ Facebook post set off a defense of Fonseca’s right to free expression, leading the ACLU of Texas to tweet at Nehls: “you can’t prosecute speech just because it has the word f*ck in it.”
.@SheriffTNehls, you can't prosecute speech just because it has the word "f*ck" in it. (And the owner of the truck should feel free to contact @ACLUTx.) #ConstitutionalLaw101 #FreeSpeech pic.twitter.com/WPWUW5fFwo
— ACLU of Texas (@ACLUTx) November 15, 2017
Nehls said in a press conference last Wednesday that he supported freedom of speech, adding the sheriff’s office hadn’t threatened anyone with arrest. “I think now it would be a good time to have meaningful dialogue with that person and express the concerns out there regarding the language on the truck,” Nehls told reporters.
On Monday, Fonseca stood alongside her family and attorney, telling reporters that her sticker had been on the truck for 11 months but had only come to the broader public’s attention when the sheriff posted a picture of it on Facebook. The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office told KHOU that it would issue a statement on Monday after it reviewed the press conference.
“No matter what race, religion, or belief you may have, we are all equal. Not any one of us is any better than anyone else,” Fonseca told reporters. “Everyone’s voice should be heard. And I’m just one person.”
For now, both stickers remain on her truck.