It appears that there are people who just don’t get the fact that religion has every right to be part of the political dialogue and active in “the public square.” The citizens of El Paseo are making sure that their mayor learns that lesson.
This story comes from our friends at Family Research Council.
El Paso must be “the safest city in America” for everyone but Christians. When researchers surveyed the area for crimes, they must have missed the destruction of free speech. Since 2010, the Texas border town has been managed by a mayor intent on cracking down on area churches and shutting them out of the political process. It all started two years ago when the city council passed a measure giving health benefits to homosexual partners–in plain violation of the state’s marriage amendment. Area residents didn’t agree with the ordinance so they put a referendum on the ballot to void it. “We saw this as a stepping stone to gay ‘marriage,'” said one churchgoer. So did several others, and the repeal passed overwhelmingly. Mayor John Cook, angry that the city voted him down, decided to ignore the will of the people and force another vote in the city council. It squeaked through on one ballot–his own.
The town was outraged. “We resented highly the fact that the mayor and four City Council people thought they knew better than what the people had voted for,” said Ignacio Padilla. If this mayor refused to listen to his constituents, then they determined to elect someone who would. Local churches started circulating a petition that would schedule a recall vote on Mayor Cook and two other council members. Pastor Tom Brown headed up the movement with El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, and together, they collected enough signatures to hold a special election. “When we got the ordinance on the ballot, it was a moral issue,” said Robert Strong. “The second time around, it morphed into an issue of democracy. Citizens’ votes were being disregarded, denied. We got about twice as many signatures on the recall petition.”
Cook sued, arguing Pastor Brown’s involvement was a violation of Texas election law, which bars nonprofits–including churches–to intervene in the political process. Still, County Judge Javier Alvarez refused to stop the election, because he believed it would “thwart the will of the people.” So Cook sued again. That’s when the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) stepped in, and the drama really escalated. Desperate for revenge, the mayor brought personal charges against Pastor Brown, racking up a quarter million dollars in legal fees. But what he did next stunned people across America: he and the district attorney launched a grand jury investigation of every citizen involved in the petition drive. If he’s successful, anyone who engaged in El Paso’s political process would be prosecuted and indicted.
According to Attorney Joel Oster, ADF has “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,” Oster said, “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.”
In the meantime, citizens have packed into city council meetings, and one by one, taken the stand to protest. During Rachel Quintana’s testimony (video here), Mayor Cook interrupted the woman and threatened to have her removed. “Thank you. Your time is over. And if you can’t remove yourself from the podium, I’ll have you removed. You can take your freedom of speech outside.” Apparently, he’s a graduate of the President’s school on religious freedom. Both believe that, when it comes to civic involvement, faith is the great disqualifier. I suppose this is the logical progression of the Left’s agenda. First, they try to silence Christians. When that doesn’t work, they jail them.
Fortunately, ADF is hot on the case, working to defend the Christians’ right to be fully engaged in the culture. “This is a blatant matter of abusing the rights of church officials to be involved in local affairs,” Oster said. First step? Challenging the Texas law that shuts churches out of the political process. Then they’ll deal with Cook–unless voters get to him first.