The city that launched a hundred missions pulled off one of its biggest Tuesday, when Houston downed anti-freedom Proposition 1. The measure that sparked millions of dollars in ads, rallies, and public outcry was soundly rejected, blindsiding liberals who wrongly believed the country was on board with their social extremism. Now, barely 48 hours after the 61-39% drubbing, the mainstream media is still scratching its head over how conservatives pulled off such a mammoth victory.
The answer, many will tell you, lies as far back as 2014. That’s when Mayor Annise Parker’s crusade for the city’s bathroom bill turned personal. Angry that churches were openly challenging the ordinance, Parker stunned Houston by subpoenaing the pastors’ sermons, emails, and private communications. Not surprisingly, the five targets of her wrath -- all multicultural pastors -- battled back in court. By then, the country’s eyes were on the Mayor, whose campaign of political intimidation drew the attention of Congress and voters everywhere. Reluctantly, she withdrew the subpoenas to dodge the PR controversy -- but quietly continued her legal suit.
Before long, area churches were not just awake, but fired up over the measure -- which not only made public bathroom selection a matter of multiple choice, but set religious liberty on a collision course with sexual expression. Tens of thousands of citizens worked around the clock to put the ordinance on the ballot -- only to watch the Mayor invalidate them without cause. Finally, in a battle that went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, Parker was forced to give citizens their constitutional right: to vote.
And vote they did, streaming into polling places Tuesday at rates more than double the last three elections. It was the culmination, experts pointed out, of months of “speeches, yard signs, T-shirts, banners, ads on TV, ads on radio,” more than 30,000 door-to-door visits, and 100,000 volunteer calls. And for conservatives, the victory meant just as much to the broader debate as it did to Houston. For the first time since the Supreme Court struck down marriage laws, Americans were able to push back on the Left’s narrative of social change. In most expert’s minds, the city’s 160,286 votes against Proposition 1 said a lot more about the state of the country than the Supreme Court’s five votes against marriage.
This morning, the shockwaves were still rippling through liberal circles, which can’t seem to fathom a world where men aren’t allowed to use the women’s restroom -- or a government that couldn’t punish people for believing about marriage what our own president did three years ago. Even better, the message from Houston seems to be resonating with corporate heavyweights like the NFL and NCAA.
Despite Annise Parker’s threats that the vote would have a crushing effect on local business, major sports leagues saw the 23-point margin and thought twice about overreacting to Prop 1’s defeat. “This will not affect our plans for Super Bowl LI in 2017,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy reassured locals. College basketball followed suit, insisting that it wouldn’t find a new host city for the Final Four next year.
Both announcements seemed to bolster the notion that liberals were not only wrong about the culture wars -- but losing them. That was the headline in yesterday’s Atlantic, where editors pushed back on the idea that abortion, same-sex marriage, legalized pot, and gun control were the pathway to a Democratic majority. In many ways, they write, “the Left has misread the electorate’s enthusiasm for social change, inviting a backlash from mainstream voters invested in the status quo.”
The magazine cited the Kentucky Governor’s race, where underdog Steve Bevin told the Washington Post on the eve of the vote that he’d initially planned to stress economic issues, but found that social values are “what moves people.” To be sure, they said, “Tuesday was an off-year election with dismally low voter turnout, waged in just a handful of locales. But liberals who cite this as an explanation often fail to take the next step and ask why the most consistent voters are consistently hostile to their views, or why liberal social positions don’t mobilize infrequent voters.”
Democrats, they argue, “want to believe Americans are on board with their vision of social change -- but they might win more elections if they meet voters where they really are.” And where they are, as Houston showed, is increasingly determined not to lose their fundamental freedoms.
Several weeks ago, the U.S. Department of State released its annual review of religious freedom developments around the world. The just-released report, detailing issues that occurred throughout 2014, is notable in that it highlights the heavy persecution that Christians and others face at the hands of non-state actors like ISIS and Boko Haram. Implicit in that is a recognition by the Obama administration that Christians have been at the receiving end of much overseas persecution.
According to the report, the governments of Iraq and Syria have been simply unable to ensure the protection of religious minorities in their nations, as militant groups battle for control of territory over which they administer their own version of “justice” once they have conquered it. For many Christians, this means being forced to pay a “tax,” convert to Islam, or be killed. It also means arbitrary and unjust practices, as this Christian family knows only too well:
“Three-year old Christina Khader Ebada boarded a crowded bus with her mother to leave when suddenly one of the fighters guarding the checkpoint tore Christina from her mother’s arms. The panicked mother followed him, pleading with him to return the girl. “Shut up,” he responded. “If you come close to this little girl you will be slaughtered; we will slaughter you.” And she was forced back on the bus, leaving her baby behind, never to know what became of her.”
After turning a blind eye to the crises facing believers around the world, the State Department should be commended for highlighting the persecution of Christians. After years of equivocation by the Obama administration and other Western governments, such clear-eyed statements are welcome, indeed. The report rightly notes the persecution to other religious groups: Jews are being harassed and targeted in France and Germany, Muslims in Burma, and Buddhists in China.
There is a litany of other problem spots -- we need not forget the carnage that Boko Haram has caused across Nigeria as it targets Christians and Muslims who don’t agree with it. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Russia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, India, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are also all mentioned for their own religious freedom problems in the executive summary alone.
The State Department report does an admirable job highlighting the facts on the ground. Now it’s up to decision makers and others who can make a difference on the ground to act on these facts. We hope the administration follows its observations in this report with action. No one -- irrespective of their faith -- should have to live under anything less than full protection of their inherent, God-given right of religious freedom. Government can never grant this right, and can never take it away.
Jonathan Imbody is a longtime champion of life, liberty, family, and faith. As the Vice President for Government Relations at the Christian Medical Society, he is a seasoned veteran of Washington’s policy battles and a stout defender of the sanctity of life and the value of every person. That’s what made his lecture yesterday at FRC so compelling. Based on his new book Faith Steps: Moving toward God through Personal Choice and Public Policy, Jonathan’s lecture explained the importance of Christian participation in the public square.
As Jonathan asked, “Why should people who know the difference between good and evil leave government in the hands of those who do not?” Jonathan made a point of emphasizing that Christians must engage culture in terms the culture understands, using the Apostle Paul’s message to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17) as a solid biblical example. “God creates every human being in His image,” writes Jonathan.
“From a public policy standpoint, this means that we honor and protect human life at every stage of development, especially when individuals cannot protect themselves. From a personal standpoint, it means that as God's image-bearers, we need to walk consistently with His principles if the image we reflect is to help others better understand Him.” Be sure to watch the lecture (video below) and learn why your involvement in public life is so vital, and how we can make arguments persuasively to our needy culture.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.