The Texas Department of Transportation's sign regulations are so strict that the agency once said that even the commandments of the Lord would require a permit. But the woman who owned the Ten Commandments sign in question fought back, and it seems that TxDOT is finally putting its rules into perspective. Now Texan homeowners who live along highways are free to warn passing drivers about what they shall not do, as long as they can keep the message on a sign that's smaller than 96 square feet.
Jeanette Golden purchased a 72-square-foot sign listing "God's 10 Commandments" and put it in her front yard in August 2013. Her Sabine County home sits on Highway 21, so drivers passing through could easily see the sign. And so could TxDOT.
The state sent Golden a letter in May informing her that the sign counted as an "outdoor advertisement" and needed a permit, a process that would have shaken the pious woman down for a lot of extra cash. Getting the outdoor advertising license required a $125 fee, a $200 surety bond, a $100 permit application fee and an annual renewal fee of $75, according to an attorney at the Liberty Institute who took on her case.
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Pushed by the Liberty Institute, TxDOT attempted to explain itself. The state's Highway Beautification Transportation Code extends TxDOT's regulatory grasp into private property, the agency explained, and businesses are only permitted to advertise for themselves on their own property. No one can advertise for anything besides oneself.
But Golden and the Liberty Institute argued that her sign was never an advertisement at all -- just a non-commercial message expressing her religious views. After the Liberty Institute accused TxDOT of violating Golden's freedom of speech, the agency agreed to compromise.
In a press release, the Liberty Institute announced Thursday that TxDOT has just changed its rules to allow people who live along highways to post signs on their own property without a permit, as long as the signs stay within the size limit and don't promote a business. Liberty Institute attorney Mike Berry said an a statement that "we commend TXDOT's commitment to religious freedom and private property rights, which are the most sacred rights Texans and Americans enjoy, dating back to the founding of Texas and our nation."