Texas First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer sent a letter yesterday to San Jacinto County Commissioners, applauding their decision to maintain four large Christian crosses on the outside of the county courthouse building. His short letter misrepresents the law and attacks the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has asked the county to remove the crosses on behalf of a local citizen.
Mateer holds extremist legal views. He’s so extreme that after President Trump nominated him for a federal judgeship, his name had to be withdrawn after a national outcry. This disgraced, failed judicial nominee had previously worked for First Liberty, a virulently anti-LGBTQ Christian law firm that works to promote Christian nationalism. Most notoriously, Mateer has called transgender children part of “Satan’s plan,” a comment that was only one of the many outlandish statements FFRF highlighted in opposing Mateer’s appointment.
Written as part of his old job at the Texas attorney general’s office, Mateer’s letter to San Jacinto County is a brazen attempt to defame FFRF and to encourage the county to violate federal law to advance his personal religion, Christianity. His missive claims that the U.S. Supreme Court has called FFRF “an enterprising plaintiff” that the court has “found guilty” of “roam[ing] the country in search of governmental wrongdoing.” This is false (and inadvertently admits that Mateer is defending governmental wrongdoing). No court has ever found FFRF “guilty” of any crime, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never referred to FFRF as an “enterprising plaintiff.” Furthermore, FFRF only contacted San Jacinto County because a resident complained.
Mateer asserts, “While FFRF threatens more than it sues, it often loses when it does sue,” which is intentionally misleading on multiple fronts. FFRF has a solid litigation track record, winning 14 of 17 final court decisions since the beginning of 2016. And FFRF didn’t “threaten” San Jacinto County, either. The state/church watchdog merely sent the county a complaint letter asking it to comply with the law on behalf of a local complainant. FFRF dispatches more than a thousand similar letters every year, successfully ending hundreds of state/church violations annually, and only sues as a last resort.
Mateer misleadingly tells the county that it “may display historical symbols, like crosses, without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” This is also false. As shown by the community’s reaction to FFRF’s challenge, where 600 people showed up at a county commissioner meeting to defend the courthouse crosses, there is no question that these large crosses are intended to promote Christianity. This is unconstitutional, and no federal court has ever held otherwise. Although Mateer offers to “support” the county if it defends the crosses in court, he fails to mention that when the county loses, it will have to pay the other side’s attorney fees. (This is a common tactic for groups like Mateer’s old outfit, First Liberty Institute, and it has cost taxpayers millions.)
Instead of doing the important work of a state attorney general’s office, Mateer spends his time attacking nonprofits dedicated to defending the U.S. Constitution and urging Texas counties to violate the law so long as they do so in a way that advances Christianity. Mateer is treating the AG’s office like an arm of the Christian law firm he used to haunt. Texans should demand that Jeff Mateer be replaced by someone who will do the job rather than advancing a personal religious agenda.
The Lone Star State deserves better — much better.