Friday, March 16, 2012

Is El Paso limiting the free speech of Christians?

I came across this article last week and thought that it would be good to share. Apparently El Paso Mayor John Cook and some of the city council members decided to ignore a ballot initiative vote. The ballot initiative was voted on and passed which established a city ordinance limiting domestic partner benefits.

The action of the mayor and city council caused an uproar and led to recall petitions being circulated and signed. This led to further actions:

"The mayor subsequently sued Tom Brown Ministries, Word of Life Church of El Paso, El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values and other local citizens who circulated recall petitions. He cited a Texas election law, arguing that it prohibits churches from circulating a petition.

"While ADF attorneys have filed a separate federal suit against the law to have it declared unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds, a state judge denied Cook’s request to order the election halted.

"Then the Court of Appeals for the 8th District took up the mayor’s cause and ordered the election stopped and the petition signatures decertified. Almost immediately, El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza subpoenaed the petitions and convened a grand jury to proceed with possible criminal indictment of those behind the petition effort."

While I am not familiar with the Texas law that is in question I do know something regarding the Johnson Amendment of 1954. It wasn't always illegal for a church to engage in political speech. And technically on a federal level it is still not illegal. The only limit is a loss of tax exempt status if a church or other 501(c)(3) organization actively engages in political campaigning for or against a particular candidate. The actions of the churches circulating the recall petitions may violate the IRS tax code in question. But should they be considered criminal in nature?

That is the question that is apparently going to be decided surrounding the Texas election law and may have serious ramifications on what a church can and cannot say.

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