Just when you thought it was OK to voice opposition on any subject in these United States, up pops Houston, Texas as proof positive that being an opponent can sometimes be hazardous to your constitutional rights.
Down in the home of the first dome, and not far from the battleground (San Jacinto) where Texas won its independence, opposing a HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) apparently is something that will not be tolerated, not even from the pulpit of Houston churches.
Just in case your attention has been focused elsewhere, the Houston city council passed this equal rights ordinance which, among other “things” removes the little male and female characters announcing bathrooms. To accommodate transgender individuals, men can enter women’s facilities and the ditto the other way, anywhere there’s a john in the city of Houston.
HERO also adds familial status, genetic information and pregnancy to “protected characteristics” which already include race, color, national origin, marital status, religion (especially lack thereof), age, gender, gender identity (?), sexual orientation, disability … a total of 14 categories coming under the protection of the city.
Noticeably, HERO falls short of giving a nod to preachers, and that’s the group currently coming under a special kind of fire usually reserved for enemies of a state-run statist.
Subpoenas have been issued for “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.” According to news outlets, the papers were issued to several high-profile pastors and religious leaders who have committed the “vocal in opposing the ordinance” sin.
News reports say once the ordinance passed the Houston city council, opponents had 30 days to file petitions of repeal. Opponents needed 17,200 and some signatures to get a referendum on the ballot; petition drives reportedly netted more than 50,000 signatures. These were presented to the city.
Imagine the surprise on opposing faces when city attorneys threw out the petitions in August, claiming “irregularities” in the signatures. Opponents of HERO, also known as ASK (Any Sex Kommodiums), filed a lawsuit; Houston city attorneys responded with the subpoenas. The pastors served were not party to the lawsuit, but they reportedly were part of a coalition of about 400 churches opposed to the ordinance.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm which handles religious liberty cases, represents some Houston pastors. ADF seeks to quash the subpoenas on the ground they are “overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing and vexatious.” Other attorneys say the effort of Houston City Attorney David Feldman on behalf of Parker, Houston’s first openly lesbian mayor, is an attack on Constitutional rights.
Steve Riggle, senior pastor of mega-super-really big Grace Community Church was one of those ordered to turn over speeches and sermons. He was also told to deliver all communications with members of his congregation regarding the ordinance.
Your Humble Observer has never heard Pastor Riggle either in or out of the pulpit, but apparently he’s occasionally pretty good at making a few words go a long way. “The mayor would like to silence our voice. She’s a bully,” he told a reporter.
To use a particularly old and not too original cliché, Houston, we have a problem. And, like Apollo 13, this one is a little spacey. One would think just about any attorney would understand the First Amendment prohibition of prohibition of speech.
And, by common sense application, one would think the Constitutional guarantee, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech …” would be applicable even in Houston and even if it blisters Herzonner the Mayor.
The freedom to exercise religion surely extends to the freedom to make social commentary on the issue of the day from any pulpit. There’s nothing in the amendment disallowing the endorsement of a political candidate, but the IRS says it is a dead-bang violation for any tax exempt group or organization (including churches) to take part in, contribute to or make statements for or against any candidate.
In Houston, there’s opposition to an ordinance. If the mayor is annoyed by that fact, she should take an anti-annoyance pill washed down by liquid sipped from her Big Girl glass. City attorney Feldman should take a refresher course in Constitutional law.
Both Feldman and Parker should buy some new britches. Apparently, they’re a little too big for the ones they’re now wearing.
Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes egosensical politicians and their minions.
Thought for the day: Don’t look at our country’s needs and pray for our elected officials, look at our elected officials and pray for our country.
Pat Culverhouse is a journalist, political columnist and editorial page editor for the Minden Press-Herald. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.