An Illinois appeals court has upheld a Kane County judge’s judgment the religious freedom of four self-avowed Christian men from Elgin, whom Elgin police accused of gang membership, was not hindered by an injunction the city tried to apply that would have barred them from associating with gang members.
The May 13 ruling was penned by Justice Ann Jorgensen, with concurrence from Justices Robert McLaren and Donald Hudson, of the Illinois Second District Appellate Court in Elgin. The ruling was filed as an unpublished order issued under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23, which means it may not be cited as precedent, except in the circumstances allowed by the rule.
The ruling favored the state of Illinois and city of Elgin in a lawsuit against Elias Juarez, Saul Juarez, Oscar Sanchez and Reuben Sanchez.
In 2010, an injunction was filed against 79 people Elgin authorities alleged were members of the Latin Kings street gang, prohibiting them from gang activity, which included meeting with one another or members of other gangs in public, under threat of monetary damages. The city took the action under the Illinois Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act.
The four men resisted in court, with three of them arguing they were no longer in the gang, and Saul Juarez arguing he had never been a member. They went to bench trial, with Kane County Circuit Judge David Akemann rejecting the injunction request, deciding the men were not gang members.
The four men had also lodged a counterclaim, demanding the state pay damages and their legal costs. They grounded their claim in the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying they were born-again Christians and the injunction threat to bar contact with gang members “chilled” their efforts to minister to Latin Kings and urge members to leave the gang.
Judge Akemann turned down the four men, finding no evidence authorities “ever prevented or attempted to prevent Defendants from professing their faith.” As an example of lawful limits on religious expression, Akemann pointed out the men could not enter a public school uninvited to proselytize.
The men appealed, but Justice Jorgensen backed up Akemann.
"Defendants were still able to communicate their faith to Latin Kings gang members after the complaint was filed," Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen noted the men admitted they evangelized through telephone and text messages, despite Elgin's move for the injunction, and some of the men also preached at an anti-violence rally, showing their religious freedom was not "substantially burdened." Further, they acknowledged their religious calling was universal, but they only wanted to minister to Latin Kings and school children, Jorgensen said.
One of the men also admitted he knew he was not prevented from evangelizing to Latin Kings in cities other than Elgin.
On another matter, Jorgensen overturned the lower court's decision to deny the men a hearing on their request for sanctions. The men said they wanted sanctions, because police had purged their names from the city's gang roster in 2013, but never told the men or their attorneys of this purge and continued to press the injunction case several more years.
Jorgensen ordered a hearing on sanctions should be held in circuit court.
The four men have been represented by the Chicago firm of Mauck & Baker.