The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
The election may be over, but the battle rages on.
Rhett Rosenquest Smith, the Green Party candidate for Congressional District 14 who conceded his seat to Republican Randy Weber, has filed a lawsuit against Weber for his declaration at a candidate forum that there is no separation of church and state.
Smith filed the suit Nov. 5 in the Beaumont Division of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
During a debate Oct. 25, Weber and Smith each spoke about their stances on the separation of church and state when it came to public policy. Weber touted his Christian faith while Smith stood firmly behind the First Amendment and its requirement that church and state remain separate.
Weber, who had received the endorsement of two anti-abortion groups, did not express a desire at the candidate forum for a separation of church and state.
“I am the church,” he said at the forum.
Smith, who considers himself agnostic, said in a recent phone interview that Weber’s statements at the forum violated the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment in particular. And because Weber is an elected, public official, Smith said, he interpreted those remarks as wrought with intention.
“To me, it was a direct threat,” Smith said.
Weber, who has represented the 29th District in the Texas House of Representatives since 2008, refused to comment through his spokeswoman, Courtney Weaver. She said the campaign’s lawyers were looking into the complaint.
“I feel like I’m on pretty solid ground,” Smith said of his lawsuit.
If the District Court does not act, Smith said he would take his suit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He wanted to see some progress on his suit before Weber has been sworn into Congress, he said.
Weber’s political affiliation endorses Christianity, Smith said. At the forum, which the Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas held, Weber said he was a Christian and expressed beliefs that align with Christian values, such as his opposition to abortion.
“Is the Republican Party challenging the First Amendment?” Smith said.
In his suit, Smith accuses Weber of proselytizing Christian religion and seeks a temporary restraining order, preventing Weber from proselytizing when conducting official proceedings in the Texas House and prohibiting him from campaigning for office in District 14.
But it may be too little too late for that. Weber was elected to represent District 14 in the U.S. House Nov. 6, the day after Smith filed his suit.
Smith claims in his complaint that Weber’s statements alienated him and any other non-Christians, disregarding beliefs not related to Christianity and overstepping the line between church and state.
He further states that Weber’s statements constitute “publicly sponsored religious exercise” and place undue pressure on Smith, impeding his ability to participate freely and openly. And the Christian proselytizing may prevent some non-Christians from participating in public events for fear of persecution, which deprives them of these public opportunities, the suit states.
Smith requested in his suit that a First Amendment Center Office be established using state funds and punitive fees from Weber to benefit the residents of District 14 and an additional $50,000 to defend First Amendment freedoms.