ADF challenges Texas election law being used to silence churches

El Paso mayor is using unconstitutional election law to stop churches from circulating recall petitions
Friday, November 18, 2011

ADF attorney sound bite:  Joel Oster

EL PASO, Texas — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys representing an El Paso church and its pastor filed suit in federal court Thursday to have a Texas election law struck down as unconstitutional. El Paso Mayor John Cook has been using the law to prevent churches from circulating petitions that seek to recall him from office.

“Pastors and churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished by the government for exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. “No law or government official can rob a faith group of its constitutionally protected rights just because that official would prefer not to be removed from office.”

Cook has sued several other churches, ministries, and ministry leaders in state court for distributing recall petitions against him. ADF attorneys are defending those parties as well.

The new federal lawsuit challenges a problematic section of the Texas Election Code that prohibits churches from participating in “the circulation and submission of a petition to call an election.” The law, if violated, is punishable as a third-degree felony.

The lawsuit states that the church, Jesus Chapel, and its pastor, H. Warren Hoyt, “want to be able to fully participate as citizens within the community, including circulating petitions to hold recall elections, without fear of punishment arising from the enforcement of an unconstitutional state election law against them.”

ADF attorneys are seeking an injunction that bars Cook from using the law to stop the church from circulating recall petitions. The suit also requests a declaration that the law itself is unconstitutional.

El Paso attorney Troy C. Brown is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, Hoyt v. City of El Paso, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
  • Pronunciation guide: Oster (OH’-stir)
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.