Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Court Rejects RFRA Claims By Former Street Gang Members

In People v. Latin Kings Street Gang, 2019 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 852 (IL App., May 13, 2019), an Illinois appellate court rejected claims by former street gang members that the state violated Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act by bringing a frivolous lawsuit against them under the Illinois Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act .

The state sought to obtain damages from 79 individuals and enjoin them from further gang activity including meeting with members of the Latin Kings. Defendants contended that they had left the Latin Kings and become born-again Christians who met with current gang members in order to share the Christian Gospel with them.  They contend that after the suit was filed, they could no longer go into schools to speak with students about the danger of gangs, nor were they able to preach the Gospel to gang members out of fear of being arrested. The court concluded, however:
... [T]he lawsuit here did not constitute a substantial burden on defendants' religious exercise.... [D]efendants were still able to communicate their faith to Latin Kings gang members after the complaint was filed in this case. Oscar testified that he was not prevented from communicating his faith to Latin Kings in a different county or city. There were times when he wanted to reach out to gang members through Facebook to get together so he could share his faith with them, but felt that he could not do so because of the lawsuit. However, he conceded that no one told him that he could not do so and that he merely considered it an inconvenience. Elias testified how he communicated with gang members via text messages.... He did not state that the lawsuit prevented from engaging in such communication, and the record does not reflect that police were monitoring defendants' cell phones such that they would have discovered, and used against them, such evidence. Further, Ruben testified that he held Bible studies in his home and spoke about his faith at other churches.