Friday, September 27, 2013

Church Leaders Avoid Recall | Casey's Last Word

A coalition of church leaders who opposed the recent 8-3 City Council vote adding gays and other sexual minorities to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance is organizing to reverse the council action.

I’m not quite sure they are sticklers regarding all of the 10 Commandments handed to Moses, but I’m happy to say they appear to be concerned about the laws of the State of Texas.

That’s why they are gathering votes for a referendum on the ordinance, but being very careful regarding their involvement in parallel efforts to recall the mayor and the other seven council members who voted for it.

For those who have forgotten the more obscure lessons from 8th-grade civics, a recall is an election to remove office-holders.

A referendum is an election to void an ordinance passed by a governing body.

Both are precipitated by gathering petitions.

Under the City Charter, the organizers must gather just over 61,000 signatures within 40 days of the ordinance’s passage, which makes their deadline October 15.

Express-News Columnist Brian Chasnoff learned of the care being taken when he tried to attend an organizing meeting last week.

The meeting was called by Pastor Charles Flowers.

It took place at Flower’s Northwest Side church, Faith Outreach Center International.

Someone sent Chasnoff a copy of the invitation, but Pastor Flowers asked him to leave, saying the meeting was only for other pastors and their designated representatives.

When Chasnoff asked Flowers if the meeting had to do with strategizing for an effort to recall Mayor Julian Castro and the seven council members who voted for the anti-discrimination ordinance, Flowers said, “Yes.”

But Flowers followed by saying the discussion would be “limited in the respect that we can’t do that in churches.”

Someone in the meeting sent Chasnoff a binder of materials distributed at the meeting.

Included was a copy of a petition form and a flier saying “Repeal the Ordinance.”

A blaring headline on the flier says the ordinance “allows a man in a dress to use women’s restrooms and lockers whenever he wants.”

That’s why I’m not sure the pastors are sticklers regarding the Commandments.

The ordinance has a specific provision to the contrary.

The packet also included a law firm memo stating that “churches may not be involved in recall elections.”

An instruction sheet for petition gatherers says, in all-caps, “DO NOT DISCUSS OTHER PETITIONS.”

Two years ago a coalition of church groups in El Paso was not so careful.

They gathered enough signatures to recall then-El Paso Mayor John Cook for his tie-breaking vote to give benefits to same-sex partners.

Cook sought an injunction, arguing that the involvement of churches in the campaign violated the Texas Election Code.

Churches are non-profit corporations. 

The code says, “A corporation or labor organization may not make a political contribution in connection with a recall election, including the circulation and submission of a petition to call an election.”

Lawyers for the churches argued that the law violates the First Amendment.

But a three-judge panel of the El Paso Court of Appeals held that the Election Code was clearly constitutional, even in the wake of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding corporate political spending.

The Texas Supreme Court chose not to hear the churches’ appeal.

The minister who led the effort has already paid the former mayor court-ordered sanctions of more than $8,000.

The case is still alive. Lawyers for former Mayor Cook are pursuing more than $500,000 in additional sanctions.

That could be why the pastors here are respecting the law, if not the Commandments.

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