Former gang members trying to help save the lives of their peers are being restricted from doing so, at least in the state of Illinois.
Brothers Elias and Saul Juarez and Ruben and Oscar Sanchez are seeking a motion to dismiss a complaint that was filed against them and members of the infamous gang “Latin Kings,” preventing them from sharing the Gospel.
Although the brothers say they are no longer active members of the gang, the complaint filed against them by the state of Illinois and city of Elgin sought to categorize them as such, thereby forbidding them from participating in several activities, including meeting with active members of the gang.
The complaint, pursuant to the Illinois Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act, sought to bar defendants from: “standing, sitting, walking, driving, gathering, meeting or appearing anywhere in public view with” members of the Latin Kings, among other proscriptions like “directing or participating in any assaults, batteries, mob actions,” and etc.
But because Elias, Oscar, and Ruben left the gang, they said, while Saul was never part of the Latin Kings to begin with, they felt the complaint did not apply to them, despite the state attorney’s insistence otherwise.
“We gave Kane County State’s attorney [John] Barsanti plenty of evidence that these men had left the gang, but his office insists on continuing legal action against them without a shred of evidence,” John Mauck, the Chicago attorney representing the young men, said in a statement. “The County could just as well assert that Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are members of the Latin Kings.”
Claiming violations of the brothers’ free speech and religious rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, Mauck said the state sought to limit the actions of the brothers who were no longer involved in gang life.
All the brothers wanted to do, they said, was reach out to existing members of the Latin Kings and talk to them about their own stories of transformation from a life of crime to a life redeemed through their newfound faith in Jesus Christ.
Each brother, with the help of his congregation, Christ Redeemer Christian Church in Elgin, came to accept Christ and renew his life.
Following their conversion, Elias, Oscar, and Ruben all made the decision to leave their gang, knowing in full the consequences – an intense two-minute beating or large sum of payment that would contribute to drug and weapon purchases.
Describing the beating he endured in his affidavit, Elias wrote, “When the beating began, I knew that the Lord was with me. I knew that the two minutes of beating was taking me from death to life.“After the beating, even though I was very sore, I felt a big weight lifted off my shoulder. While Oscar and Ruben were driving me home, I began to minister to them on how my life had changed and how their lives can change as well.”
For nine months, Elias, who with the help of his brother Saul accepted Christ, would minister to Oscar and Ruben and other active gang members. He would send them text messages filled with Scripture verses, letting them know that Jesus loved them and they didn’t have to continue with their lifestyle.
Although he knew he had to sever his ties with all the gang members, a requirement for those who left the gang, Elias persisted in pursuing them “for the Lord, even though [he] knew the consequences.”
Eventually, both Sanchez brothers decided to give their lives to Jesus as well.
“I went to my family and [asked] all of them for forgiveness for my past behavior,” Ruben penned. “I know that God has called me to minister to gang members and help them to be delivered and set free.”
The brothers’ attorney pointed out that all four men were “putting their own lives at risk by sharing their stories and the redemptive power of Jesus.”
Mauck also emphasized that it was not his clients’ intent “to thwart the efforts of the City and State to stop the dangerous activities of the Latin Kings.”
They all knew that street gangs were harmful and bad, he said. Their goal, simply, was to be given the freedom to minister and speak about the Gospel, which had so transformed their lives.
Several of their family members and friends testified to the turnaround of the brothers after they received Christ, including their pastor Eddie Rivera.
“Saul and Elias are both serving the Lord and have departed from the ways that enslaved them in the past,” Rivera affirmed in the motion. “Saul and Elias Juarez's life transformation and deep love for the Lord make them a great example for the youth in the community. It gives me great joy to see young people like Saul and Elias mend their lives and make such dramatic turnaround in their social behavior.”
The Alliance Defense Fund is currently working with Mauck’s firm on behalf of his clients in order to protect the brothers’ religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment and allow them to continue to witness to their peers.
“By suing Elias, Saul, Oscar, and Ruben, Plantiffs have substantially burdened their religious exercise of sharing the gospel of Jesus with others,” the motion stated. “Although there is no injunction entered against Movants, the threat of the complaint against them, and the pressure to sign the agreed order presented by the Plaintiffs’ counsel has inhibited the Movants from fully carrying out their religious mission.”
In hope of continuing to minister to other gang members and lead them out of that lifestyle, the brothers pray that the court will approve their motion to dismiss the lawsuit pegged against them.
“I know with all of my heart that this is my calling, through the Spirit of God, to lead the gang members out of darkness into the light,” Elias noted.
Oscar agreed. “I truly believe with all of my heart that ministering to gang members and leading them to Christ is a mandate on my life.”
“I know that God called me to minister to gang members,” Ruben also testified. “My former gang unit is down to six members. Not all have given their lives to Christ, but they have left because they have seen a change in Elias, Saul, Oscar, and me.”
The motion to dismiss the case filed by the state and city of Elgin against the brothers was submitted in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Kane County, Illinois. They are currently awaiting a decision by the court.