SAN ANTONIO (CN) – A group representing descendants of Alamo defenders claims in court that the Texas General Land Office and the manager of the San Antonio mission’s day-to-day operations have unlawfully silenced its members who oppose a site redevelopment plan and blocked them from holding religious services inside the Alamo Chapel.
According to the complaint filed Tuesday in San Antonio federal court, Charisma Villarreal, an aspiring member of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, attended a press conference last month in the Alamo Plaza and wore a t-shirt that read “Don’t Move the Cenotaph!” — a phrase expressing opposition to the Alamo Master Plan, a redevelopment project that will move the monument memorializing Alamo defenders 500 feet south of its current position. The plan goes before the San Antonio City Council on Oct. 18.
The lawsuit – filed against the Texas General Land Office, Commissioner George P. Bush and site manager Alamo Trust Inc. – says that Villarreal was approached by an Alamo Ranger after she entered the Alamo Chapel and was told that her shirt could not be worn inside the Alamo and must be turned inside-out or swapped for another one if she wanted to come inside.
The complaint states that the Alamo was a policy prohibiting “clothing, signs, images or expressions of a political nature in and around the Alamo Chapel on state-owned property,” which the plaintiffs argue “is a violation of the principles, rights and liberties for which the heroes of the Alamo fought and sacrificed their lives.”
According to the suit, Alamo Rangers similarly instructed an association member, Samantha White, to leave. She was wearing a shirt with the same message as Villarreal's.
Villarreal and White say the Alamo is frequently used for public announcements, press conferences, speeches and other political expressions without incident, arguing the defendants’ policy has only been implemented to curtail criticism of Alamo management.
“My clients have been targeted for restrictions and prohibitions based on the content of their speech — their opposition to the plan to move the Alamo Cenotaph from its current location,” Art Martinez de Vara, a lawyer representing the descendants, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
The Alamo Defenders Descendants Association also alleges that Alamo Trust has unfairly denied the group use of the chapel to hold a Christian prayer service memorializing the Alamo defenders, a tradition repeated annually for the past 20 years.
“Once a year we gather inside the Chapel on March 6 [and] we call out the name of the defenders ... and have the descendants stand when their ancestor’s name is called,” Lee Spencer White, president of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, said in a Wednesday phone interview Wednesday.
“We are the proven bloodline,” White said. “This is not a family reunion group,”
The group claims the decision to keep its members from using the chapel is an unconstitutional demonstration of religious preference.
Ramón Vásquez, executive director of the nonprofit American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, confirmed Wednesday that the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation is allowed to perform a private ceremony in the chapel remembering the Native Americans whose remains were discovered under the church in a 1994 archeological project and subsequently reinterred.