Advancing Religious Liberty
4/5/12 at 01:28 PM 0 Comments

El Paso City Leaders Declare War on Civil Liberties of Christians

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Author: ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears

The penalty for opposing the policies of El Paso mayor John Cook are getting stiffer – maybe as stiff as “sign a petition, go to jail.”

I told you a few months ago about the conflict building in the Texas border city between local officials and several Christian groups – Tom Brown Ministries, Word of Life Church of El Paso, El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, and others – over the circulation of petitions to recall the mayor and a few city council members. The recall effort stemmed from the decision by these city leaders to rescind an ordinance passed by local voters in November, 2010…an ordinance prohibiting benefit subsidies for unmarried domestic partners. (Advocates of homosexual behavior use these subsidies to pry open the legal door to other special rights and privileges.)

On learning of the recall effort, Mayor Cook filed suit, alleging that members of Word of Life Church violated Texas election law by circulating a petition. (Alliance Defense Fund attorneys have filed a federal suit to have that law declared unconstitutional.)

A state judge denied Cook’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the recall election, but on Feb. 17, the Court of Appeals for the 8th District of Texas obliged the mayor by ordering the recall halted and decertifying the petition signatures. On March 7, ADF and a team of allies filed an expedited petition with the Texas Supreme Court, asking the court to overrule the Court of Appeals decision.

Meanwhile, though, El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza has subpoenaed the petitions and convened a grand jury to proceed with possible criminal indictment of those behind the petition effort. Brown and other church and ministry leaders could be indicted, arrested, and jailed.

“El Paso citizens should not live in fear of being arrested and jailed for exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster, who argued before the appeals court on Jan. 24 in Cook v. Tom Brown Ministries. “We have more than 250 signed affidavits from local citizens who are terrified that they may go to jail for their legitimate political and free speech efforts. This is America, and the mayor can’t be allowed to put his opponents in jail just because he doesn’t like the fact that they participated in a valid effort that he doesn’t favor.”

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez, ADF-allied attorney and election law expert James Bopp, ADF-allied attorneys with Liberty Institute, and local counsel Theresa Cabellero and Stuart Leeds have all joined with ADF attorneys to represent the constitutionally protected rights of El Paso citizens. In addition to the expedited petition, the legal team also filed a motion to stay the appellate court ruling, which would put that decision on hold until the state high court decides the matter.

Should the city government succeed in their legal persecution of these Christian citizens, the implications of the precedent aren’t hard to imagine. Civic leaders throughout the country could begin exploring ways to silence the voices of those – particularly Christians – who oppose them. Please pray for all those involved – attorneys and clients alike – in this crucial case.

This post originally appeared here.

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