Clashes between evangelical Christians and the gay community are hardly news. Because I think people’s private lives should be private, nine times out of ten, I take the side of the gay community.
But recently, the Houston City Council declared war on Christians, the Constitution, and common sense. What used to be a sensible city took a swerve so far to the left that it would be drastic even in San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle.
In June, by an 11 – 6 vote, the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). It made discriminating against gays, lesbians, and transgendered citizens illegal. This is an excellent idea, but a bit redundant, since federal law already does this.
The trouble with the ordinance is a section nicknamed the bathroom bill. Amazingly, it would allow men who say they identify as ladies to use the ladies room and vice versa. Understandably, a lot of people thought this was way out of line. So a number of Houston pastors started a referendum petition drive to recall HERO.
They needed 17, 269 verified signatures to take their anti-bathroom bill measure to the voters, and easily got 50,000. But as happens so often in situations like this, the Houston City Attorney threw out the majority of them on a variety of “irregularities”.
Backers of the referendum then sued the city, and that’s where the fun started. In a ham-fisted attempt to squash all opposition, City Attorney David Feldman issued subpoenas to five Houston pastors as part of the case’s discovery phase. They demanded “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
Does that sound like a large city with deep pockets trying to force a small group of pastors to STFU? It did to The Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty law firm that is representing the pastors. They filed a motion to stop the subpoenas, arguing they are “overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious.” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christina Holcomb said, “The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”
What did the city say it was looking for? Ostensibly, they were trying to find instances where pastors told petition gatherers how to gather petitions, but gave them wrong directions that could have resulted in invalid signatures. So why didn’t the city just ask to see what instructions the pastors gave?
When Fox News reporter Todd Stearnes asked why the mayor wants to inspect the sermons. Janice Evans, the mayor’s director of communications, had a short answer. “We don’t comment on litigation,”
Thanks largely to Starnes, this story earned Houston the contempt it deserves, and they had a unique response to the mounting pressure to stop violating basic religious liberties and First Amendment rights.
According to an amended motion filed Friday in Harris County, Texas court, the city’s attorneys will no longer demand sermons related to homosexuals, gender identity, or Mayor Annise Parker. The amended subpoenas the pastors to turn over “all speeches or presentations related to HERO” – along with 17 different categories of information.
I haven’t been a churchgoer for decades, but there’s one thing I do remember. Most of the “speeches” and “presentations” that happen in church are known by another name: Sermons.
So what will Mayor Parker do next to squash dissent? Strip-search pastors to see if they have anti-HERO tattoos? Nobody knows how far a left-wing lesbian will go to intimidate conservative evangelicals, but one thing is certain: In the Sixties, if J. Edgar Hoover had used the same tactics to squash civil rights sermonizing in black churches like Martin Luther King’s, the left would have gone berserk.
Now that I’ve activated my memory cells, he did, and they did.