Religious Liberty Challenge: “Houston, We Have a Problem!”

“No provision in our constitution ought to be dearer to man, than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” – Thomas Jefferson

Quenching Religious Expression in the Name of Equality

Whichever side one is on as to the “transgender” issue, what happened in October in Houston, Texas should concern all who support religious liberty.

Long story short, a petition was submitted to the city to call for a voter referendum that would repeal a recent amendment to the city’s equal rights ordinance. The amendment allowed “transgendered” people access to the rest room of their “gender identity”. When the referendum petition was rejected, several groups filed a lawsuit against Houston.

In response to this, attorneys for the city subpoenaed a large number of documents from five pastors—“all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

The results of this great overreach of government power would be at least two: (1) an intimidating, chilling effect on the messages and legal activism of churches, and (2) much difficulty for churches to fulfill the subpoenas—churches are generally unequipped or staffed for this kind of demand.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said that, while a subpoena would be in order when there is a reasonable suspicion of wrong, such wrongdoing is not an issue in this case. “The targeted pastors are not even parties to the lawsuit, and the scope of the subpoenas is striking broad. This has the look of a fishing expedition.” The ACLU of Texas agreed: “The government should never engage in fishing expeditions into the inner workings of a church, and any request for information must be carefully tailored to seek only what is relevant to the dispute.” The Interfaith Alliance said, “As long as a sermon is not inciting violence, the government has no business getting involved in the content of ministers’ sermons.”

That’s three left-wing voices supporting religious liberty in this case!

For now, the city has backed down (rather unrepentantly) from its power display—first by narrowing the request and then by dropping it altogether. Nonetheless, keep alert because “Vigilance is always the Price of Liberty.”

[Sources: “Friendly Atheist” blog; Websites of Americans United and the ACLU;
“The Volokh Conspiracy”, October 16 and 29, 2014; Houston Chronicle, October 29]

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