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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Houston, Texas -- Pastors, We Want to Approve Your Sermons

"The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city's first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court."

(Todd Starnes. "Houston City Government Demands Pastors Turn Over Sermons Referencing Homosexuality, Mayor." The Christian Post. October 14, 2014) 

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

(The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. December 15, 1791)

I claim I am never surprised by news reports these days, but this nearly floored me. Houston is asking preachers to submit their sermons for government perusal? Evidently, the city council there thinks this is a good idea. I wonder if the group has ever read the First Amendment? Of course, political and social commentary is not a crime, but instead protected speech.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christina Holcomb said in a statement, "The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions." The ADF is representing five Houston pastors. They have filed a motion in Harris County court to stop the subpoenas arguing they are "overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious."

It seems all of this is the latest over Houston's new non-discrimination ordinance.

Mayor Parker had promoted an “Equal Rights Ordinance” earlier this year designed to quell any discrimination in America’s fourth largest city—including any discrimination on the basis of “gender identity.” 

Mayor Annise Parker

Todd Starnes reports:

"The law, among other things, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa (If they identity with the opposite sex). The city council approved the law in June. The Houston Chronicle reported opponents of the ordinance launched a petition drive that generated more than 50,000 signatures – far more than the 17,269 needed to put a referendum on the ballot. However, the city threw out the petition in August over alleged irregularities."

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, an open lesbian, had promoted an “Equal Rights Ordinance” earlier this year designed to quell any discrimination in America’s fourth largest city—including any discrimination on the basis of “gender identity.” Most opponents were especially concerned about the “Public Accommodations” section of the ordinance, which would allow men to use women’s restrooms, and vice versa, if they identity with the opposite sex. - See more at:
Mayor Parker refuses to explain why she wants to inspect the sermons. Janice Evans, the mayor's director of communications, said, "We don't comment on litigation."

The city demanded all public communication regarding the petition, the mayor, and the ordinance from these pastors. It is commonly believed that the state is, in essence, stating that the pastors' teachings, sermons, and emails influenced the city’s decision to create the petition by giving moral and political commentary to the ordinance.
One may do well to consider that in colonial days, most political news and announcements were made from the pulpits of churches. Then, churches held quite powerful influence on public opinion concerning governmental control.
Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, says, “This is an attempt to chill pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day. The mayor would like to silence our voice. She’s a bully.”

What To Do?
In what is evidently a direct abuse of authority, we must remember free speech is never guaranteed. In certain circumstances, government officials have demanded controls due to special concerns. Aggrieved parties must stand up for their rights in the face of Big Brother-like intrusions.
And, the full force of human rights could be demonstrated by employing transparency and the resulting revelation of the absurdity to control cultural opinion. Ironically, giving in to demands just might better show the city the insanity of the intrusion.

Should Houston pastors be afraid to pass along their sermons? No. Maybe the preachers should note their protests but follow the goofy request to avoid the appearance they are keeping records of public doctrine secret. Through their compliance, they can prove Christian messages are not a threat to the public peace.

Still, the obvious political nature of the demands stinks. 

The ADF brief accompanying the motion filed in the District Court of Harris County to quash the subpoena reads ...

“The message is clear: oppose the decisions of city government, and drown in unwarranted, burdensome discovery requests. These requests, if allowed, will have a chilling effect on future citizens who might consider circulating referendum petitions because they are dissatisfied with ordinances passed by the City Council. Not only will the Nonparty Pastors be harmed if these discovery requests are allowed, but the People will suffer as well. The referendum process will become toxic and the People will be deprived of an important check on city government provided them by the Charter.”

We must defend the churches' rights to teach what they consider Biblical truths. After all, exercising our freedom of speech is not only protected but also encouraged. Although this freedom has obvious limits, Houston has obvious political motives that are unwarranted. Hatred never furthers equality and undue force is abominable. Public opinion cannot be reigned in by political governments: It is a lesson teeming with stories of many ugly tentacles reaching far into the dark recesses of the past.  

I would have thought the Lone Star State would have learned this long ago. But, once again: "Houston, we have a problem."

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