Houstunned: Pastors Vow to Fight Mayor's Sermon Grab
Houston is home to one of NASA's most sophisticated space centers -- but even it would have trouble finding signs of intelligence in the local Mayor's office. The city's highest official is blowing past the First Amendment at warp speed -- and lighting a political powder keg in the process.
After four years of forcing her extreme agenda on the city, Mayor Annise Parker may have finally picked a fight she's bound to regret. Five months after bullying her way into a Houston-wide "bathroom bill," Parker is furious that the city's voters won't roll over and accept it. Instead, America's fourth-largest city fought back, gathering three times the number of signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot. Furious with local pastors for leading the push-back, Parker decided to get her revenge by ordering a Soviet-style crackdown on area churches.
In a story that's spreading like wildfire, the Mayor had the nerve to subpoena pastors for their sermons, text messages, photographs, electronic files, calendars, and emails -- "all communications with members of your congregation" on topics like homosexuality and gender identity. If she thought her religious "inquisition" would scare pastors, she's got another thing coming. Local Christians are more outraged than ever, igniting a firestorm that could awaken a sleeping giant in churches from coast to coast. "We're not intimidated at all," said Rev. Dave Welch. "We're not going to yield our First Amendment rights," he warned -- even if it ends in fines, confinement, or both.
The Mayor reportedly attempted to douse the flames a bit by saying the subpoena was the work of pro-bono lawyers and that she was not aware of it until yesterday. Then, she doubled down with a tweet: "If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game."
In a conversation I had this afternoon with a handful of key pastors, it's obvious that this is a fight they're ready for. Pastor Steve Riggle, a friend of FRC's, sees right through the Mayor's agenda. "This is an attempt to chill pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day," he told Fox News's Todd Starnes. And if she doesn't pull her attack dogs off the city's churches, the joke will be on her. It just might end up being the most ingenious way of getting liberals into the pews yet! "Political and social commentary is not a crime. It is protected by the First Amendment," Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) pointed out.
This is the "wall of separation" Jefferson talked about: protecting churches from the government (not the other way around). The Left is fond of misrepresenting the third President's famous letter, but Annise Parker's intrusion is exactly what the Founders were concerned about. But what did we expect in a country where four little letters -- LGBT -- are trumping the letter of the law? "Even in Houston," Erick Erickson writes, "you will be made to care."
Unfortunately, Houston is learning a hard lesson about the importance of elections. As frustrating as it is, this is what happens in a city where only 16 percent turn out to vote in the mayor's race. For now, though, local churches have a message for the government: go ahead and monitor our sermons. You obviously need the messages more than most.
You can stand with Houston's pastors by signing FRC's petition to Mayor Annise Parker, asking her to support free speech for all people. For more on the controversy, tune in to my interview on Fox News's "Kelly File" tonight at 9:20 p.m. (ET).
A Tex Book Case of Activism
When it rains in Texas, it pours. While Houston beats back its own mayor's attacks, the entire state is trying to fend off the courts' meddling on local abortion law. On the emotional roller coaster known as H.B. 2, the U.S. Supreme Court threw another wrench into the works, blocking the pro-life law from taking effect -- just weeks after the Fifth Circuit Court upheld it.
For Texans, it's another obstacle to their constitutionally-protected right to self-governance -- the principle it exercised when it raised health standards on local abortion clinics. While the Left talks about protecting women, Texas actually did it -- enacting a sweeping measure that puts women's safety ahead of the clinics' bottom lines. Had the law gone into effect, all but seven abortion clinics were expected to close for failing to abide by these common sense standards. Now, those plans are on hold, as the justices stick their nose in the state's consensus to bring the local abortion industry in line with other medical centers in terms of licenses and facilities upgrades.
As states like Texas try to save lives, the federal government is still doing all it can to jeopardize them by subsidizing abortion under ObamaCare. Yesterday, FRC Action's Josh Duggar rallied with Lila Rose at D.C.'s Planned Parenthood headquarters, protesting its growing role in American culture -- financed by unwilling taxpayers. Last month's GAO reports made a liar out of the Obama administration, which insisted that its signature health care law wouldn't bankroll abortion-on-demand.
Not only is it bankrolling the procedure, it's almost impossible to find a plan that doesn't. A whopping 1,036 insurance policies force taxpayers into the abortion industry -- 1,036 more than the President promised ObamaCare would back in 2010. "With seven in 10 Americans saying they don't want taxpayer funds to go to pay for abortions, people should cast their votes 'to take back the Senate for life,'" pro-lifers said.
On the Magistrate and Narrow...
Pasquotank County is hard to pronounce -- but it's not nearly as difficult as pronouncing two women "wife and wife." That's how North Carolina Magistrate Gary Littleton felt when a same-sex couple asked him to "marry" them at a courthouse this week. Unfortunately for Littleton, his constitutional rights are of no concern to local liberals, who insist that the judge should have to check his religious beliefs at the workplace door.
"My understanding," said Chief District Court Judge Christopher Bean, "is that a couple came and asked to be married and he refused to marry them based upon his, I guess, religious or moral principles." Like the overwhelming majority of Tar Heels, Littleton probably voted to define marriage as the union of a man and woman in 2012. Now, two years later, he doesn't believe that a handful of unelected judges should be able to override his vote -- and the vote of 1,317,177 others. "I suppose that it can be construed that he broke the law, because that is a duty that the magistrate has, to perform marriages," Bean went on. Yesterday, the county met to determine if Littleton could face criminal charges for exercising the freedom the First Amendment guarantees.
While he and other clerks await their fate, a federal judge has given Speaker of the North Carolina House, Thom Tillis, the right to defend his state's marriage amendment in court. An appeal could kick the issue back to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down Virginia's law.
Meanwhile, one of the Tar Heels' most recognizable church faces, Rev. Franklin Graham, says he barely recognizes his country. "It's sad when a judge is able to overrule the will of the people. This is a democracy and the people spoke. We're seeing that activist judges across the country are overturning the will of the people. We saw that in California. We're now seeing it here in North Carolina now. I don't know what will take place." But capitulation won't be it.
** Sick and tired of Common Core? Us too. Check out Bob Morrison's new op-ed on why everyone should be kicking the government's standards to the curb. Click over to Townhall.com to read "Conservatives Should Resolutely Oppose Common Core -- and So Should Liberals."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.