Advancing Religious Liberty
11/3/11 at 06:06 PM 0 Comments

A Church, a Mayor, and a Discarded Democracy

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Author: ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster

There are times in my life that I thank God we live in a free country. But then, there are other times I wonder if we are free at all. The tale of this Texas town makes you wonder if democracy is on life support in our country, and when will the church finally rise up and say, “Enough is enough!” 

It all started when the mayor and a few council persons in El Paso, Texas, decided they wanted to provide benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. Now as could be expected, this did not sit well with many in the community and in the local churches who thought that those who practice this behavior should not receive special benefits. 

So in November 2010, the citizens of El Paso, by popular petition, placed on the ballot and passed an ordinance prohibiting unmarried domestic partner benefits. This was democracy in action! A mayor and a few elected officials announced that they intended to pass a bad law, and several citizens responded with a grassroots effort and voiced their collective will to the city. 

But the mayor and these council persons were not too pleased that their plans were thwarted by the people. And so the city council responded to the people’s vote by passing an ordinance that undid it, and provided benefits for unmarried couples. 

This act of defiance of the expressed will of the citizenry did not set well with many El Pasoans. Even those who supported benefits for unmarried couples were outraged by the council’s actions. And so a movement was initiated to hold a recall election to remove the mayor and two council persons from office. 

Petitions were signed. Signatures were gathered. Blood, sweat and tears were spent in this effort to hold these elected officials accountable for their actions. And at the end of the day, over 15,000 signatures were collected, well over the required number to hold a recall election. 

But if you thought that this Texas mayor would just hang up his spurs, you would be a few bullets short of a six shooter. This mayor, wanting to hold onto his job, filed a lawsuit against a church and several religious leaders, claiming that their efforts in promoting the recall election were illegal, and violated Texas criminal law. 

What was it that this mayor alleged these Christians did? Obtain signatures from dead people? Have Charlie Brown sign the petition? Promise a free pass to heaven? No. The “criminal acts” that the mayor alleged were the circulating and distributing of a recall election petition by the church. In other words, pure grassroots, political speech! 

Apparently, according to the mayor, churches are not allowed to participate in democracy. And if it is a church that collected signatures to oust him from office, then such signatures don’t count. 

We, at ADF, are vigorously defending the church’s right to be fully engaged in the culture. Christians and their institutions are not second class citizens who are banned from the democratic process. Throughout our nation’s history, the voice of the church has steered us through trying times. From the Revolutionary War, the Underground Railroad, women’s suffrage and to the Civil Rights Act, the church has provided a moral compass as we made our way through history.

So even if it requires Supreme Court review, we will stand up for the right of churches to be heard. Enough is enough.

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This post originally appeared here.

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