In May of this year the Houston city council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) that requires businesses and workplaces to make available restroom facilities not according to sex but according to gender identity. A group of Houston area pastors has been organizing and vigorously opposing this bill. In response the city has issued subpoenas for materials produced, including sermons, by several of the ministers. It seems reasonably clear that the Alliance Defending Freedom is correct, that this is an attempt by the City of Houston to intimidate ministers into shutting up about the HERO ordinance and about the attempt by radicals to redefine human sexuality (sex vs gender). Ordinarily the local coverage of these issues is better simply because the local media are closer and more aware of all the facts but in this case the national media seems to be doing a better job telling the whole story. The local pastors group generated 50,000 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to overturn the HERO act. The city disqualified the petition because of alleged “irregularities” and now seems to be trying to silence vocal opponents.
More than 10 years ago pastors in Canada began to face sanctions for speaking up against homosexuality and homosexual marriage. They warned us that it could happen here. I was one of those who did not listen. I thought that the constitutional differences between the USA and Canada were enough that, whatever happened in Canada, we would be safe here. I also thought that, after the Hillarycare debacle, nothing like it would ever pass. Wrong again. I didn’t think that Americans would elect an inexperienced former community organizer with a set of dubious associations with radical anarchist bombers (the Weather Underground), a weak record in state politics, and virtually no record in national politics, to become President of the United States of America. Three strikes and I’m out. So I want a do over. It really is time to pay attention. The assumption that “it can’t happen here because of the Bill of Rights” is obviously wrong. A constitution only protects liberties if we elect people who are committed to the constitution, who, in turn, appoint people to the bench who are also committed to constitutional liberties. Clearly it is no longer safe to assume that, whatever our economic and social differences, we’re all committed to basic constitutional protections. We live in a time when:
- The IRS wants to know the content of your prayers.
- When an administration has impenitently set the Department of Justice upon a reporter and his family.
- When Cal Sate University has forced Inter-Varsity Fellowship off campus for believing and practicing the Christian religion.
- When bakers and florists are fined and put out of business because of religious objections to catering homosexual weddings.
- When it became necessary not only for Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) but to call the Department of Defense to heel because of its unconstitutional behavior restricting religious liberty.
- When a police captain is being punished by his superiors for failing to attend a meeting in a local mosque, which the Mosque advertises as an indoctrination session.
- When middle school teachers, in middle America, are told not to classify children as boys and girls but rather as “purple penguins.”
- When the City of Houston thinks that it is constitutional to subpoena sermons by ministers for daring to oppose the idea that human beings belong to one of two sexes, male or female, that gender is a grammatical category.
We may disagree about whether or how Houston pastors should have spoken up about this ordinance but the history and constitution of this country say that they are well within their rights to do so. Yes, there are some limits on what ministers can say about partisan politics, unless a leading Democrat politician is in the pulpit, on “the Lord’s Day,” just before election. In that case all limits are off.
It’s time to give serious thought about the wisdom of living under the 501 (c) 3 limits. Are congregations trading the liberty to speak as they will for a tax exemption? It’s also time for Americans to re-think the entire tax code to maximize civil liberties and minimize governmental intrusion, of all sorts, into our lives.
I agree with my friend Brian Lee that the pastors should not be ashamed of their sermons, unless they are not preaching the gospel. If they are not, shame on them! Sermons are public. We should proclaim the whole counsel of God openly, for the whole world to hear and now, thanks to the internet, the whole world can hear. In that sense, sending their sermons to the city of Houston is a good thing but ministers are citizens in a twofold kingdom and as citizens in this Republic they have certain inalienable rights among which are the freedom of speech, freedom of religious practice, and the freedom of association.
Judging by repeated purple-penguin-in-the-street interviews, many Americans have not the foggiest idea what civil liberties are, what the Bill of Rights is, why this nation was founded, or that there are express, constitutional limits on what government may and may not do. Nevertheless, too many of these same folk do find a way to mail in a ballot.
There are glimmers of cultural hope. A popular writer in the UK has recently said that the educational establishment in the UK has become so corrupted by political correctness and the subjectivism of modernist educational theories that only educational hope there is homeschooling. Millions of Americans, of course, have already dropped out of the intellectually bankrupt public education system in this country. When enough folk finally leave they will begin to wonder why they are funding a system that they can no longer, in good conscience, use. More on this in another post.
This act by the City of Houston is yet another warning shot across the bow of all who have an interest in constitutional liberties. We should not limit our speech for fear of political or cultural repression but it’s past time for all Americans to pay attention to the erosion of their civil liberties. If the City of Houston is allowed to use its offices to silence preachers, why should it stop there? Why shouldn’t they seek to silence rabbis? Somehow one thinks that they won’t be trying to silence any imams. As to why that might be I shall leave the reader to draw his own conclusions.
It appears that the City of Houston is still asking pastors to turn over “speeches and presentations.”
The ACLU of Texas expresses concern about the subpoenas.