Trick or Retreat? Houston Mayor Reconsiders Subpoenas
Houston’s launched plenty of things over the years - but controversy seems to be its specialty these days. Houston Mayor Annise Parker has certainly put the city on the map where religious intolerance is concerned. In a morning press conference, the center of a nationwide First Amendment firestorm says the city council is withdrawing the church subpoenas because she “doesn’t want to have a national debate about the freedom of religion.”
Parker stunned Americans last month with her demand for the private communications of certain Houston pastors -- none of whom were involved in the litigation over the city’s radical new “bathroom bill.” Now, she’s trying to dodge the controversy by pulling back on her PR eyesore and focusing on the suit at hand. But, as FRC has said all along, the Mayor’s motivation was never about the pastors’ sermons or speeches, it was about political intimidation.
And that continues. Despite this latest move, Annise Parker is still denying citizens a chance to vote on Houston’s unfair special rights ordinance that discriminates against religion and endangers locals by declaring that public bathrooms can’t be limited on the basis of a person’s biological sex. Even after gathering over 50,000 signed petitions to put the issue on the ballot, Mayor Parker is still refusing to give Houston a vote. Americans have to wake up and recognize this for what it is: radical totalitarianism -- the kind that follows the radical redefinition of marriage.
This growing effort by government officials to advance sexual expression at the expense of religious freedom is exactly what FRC will be exposing this Sunday, November 2 at a special I Stand Sunday simulcast at Houston’s Grace Community Church. At 6 p.m. (CT), thousands of Christians across the country will join a jam-packed line-up of speakers, including Al and Phil Robertson, Governor Mike Huckabee, the Benham Brothers, Fox News’s Todd Starnes, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the city’s persecuted pastors, and many others.
Don’t miss the chance to link arms with fellow believers around America in speaking out for our most fundamental rights. More than 2,500 churches and home groups have signed up to watch. To sign up your church or for more details, click over to IStandSunday.com.
Judge Speaks the Shame Language on HHS Mandate
President Obama may have played the media with his mandate “compromise,” but it’ll take a lot more to trick the courts. If his August rules were supposed to protect religious liberty, you could have fooled Florida Judge James Moody. In the first ruling since the administration’s new “accommodations” were released, Moody made it clear that he wasn’t falling for the President’s scam on conscience rights.
It was a huge blow to the White House’s latest First Amendment runaround, which still forces religious groups to pay for pills that can end a pregnancy -- but hides it under a fancy accounting gimmick. After a devastating ruling in June that scrapped his mandate for companies like Hobby Lobby, the President was back at the drawing board, desperate to force family businesses and nonprofits to violate their pro-life convictions. But so far, his most recent slight of hand seems headed for the same unhappy ending.
As the White House explained it, this “olive branch” was supposed to alleviate the concerns of organizations like Catholic Charities, hospitals, or colleges who are forced to provide life-destroying drugs against their will or pay the price. But in practice, the religious groups would still have to pay for the “health care” they oppose -- just through a third-party. FRC pointed out what a joke the new rules were in public comments we filed with HHS, but the agency remained stubbornly focused on imposing its radical agenda.
Ave Maria, a Catholic law school, sued the administration, because even though it was a Christian institution, it didn’t fall under the President’s “religious employer” umbrella. Yesterday, in what may be a sign of things to come for HHS, Ave Maria won a temporary victory against the mandate in Florida court. In the first decision since the new rules were announced, Judge Moody is giving the school a pass from the mandate, saving it millions of dollars in fines that would have taken effect this weekend.
For Ave Maria, there were plenty of sighs of relief. Although the battle is far from over, Moody’s opinion is a significant step in the right direction. “Our school believes in living out our religious convictions,” said Ave Maria School of Law President and Dean Eugene R. Milhizer. “The First Amendment protects Americans from mandates that require us to act against our deeply held religious convictions. But the mandate leaves us with no real choice: we must either comply and abandon our religious freedom and conscience, or resist and be fined for our faith.”
For now, the administration doesn’t seem to get the message that the courts keep sending -- which is that no one, including the President, can strong-arm Americans into surrendering their beliefs. As of today, 90% of U.S. courts have ruled on the side of religious liberty -- including, as the Becket Fund points out, the Supreme Court in three separate lawsuits. Let’s hope more courts respond as Moody did, recognizing that he President has a lot of powers -- but picking and choosing who the First Amendment applies to isn’t one of them.
D.C. Council Looks for a Hire Power
As if ordering groups to pay for abortion wasn’t enough, now the city of D.C. is trying to force those groups to hire people who support it! In a shocking bill that we talked about Monday, the nation’s capital is pushing for the final say on employees’ personal beliefs. As part of the so-called “Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act,” the City Council is openly targeting Christian and pro-life businesses and organizations with a measure similar to the HHS mandate -- but even more expansive.
Under the bill, even a conservative group like FRC would be forced to hire people who are openly hostile to their values -- all under the guise of “tolerance.” If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. In what alternate universe would the government force businesses to hire the competition -- or in our case, opposition?
Our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom sent the city of D.C. a letter on behalf of FRC and five other groups objecting to the measure, which also orders these same organizations to pay for abortion-on-demand in their health plans. “The government has no business forcing pro-life organizations to hire those who oppose their mission or to force any employer to pay for abortions,” said ADF’s Casey Mattox. “As the video of the committee hearing demonstrates, this is a cynical bill targeted at religious and other pro-life groups. It is illegal and doomed to defeat. The District should spare its taxpayers the expense of defending it.”
Ironically, the city is attempting all of this while the courts -- like Judge Moody’s -- are moving in the exact opposite direction and deciding, overwhelmingly, to protect conscience rights. For now, our best hope is in the House and Senate, which has oversight over the District of Columbia and absurd ideas like this one. With the elections just a week away, it’s possible that this debate could be coming to a Congress near you. For the sake of the First Amendment, we hope so.
** “Let’s Start Treating Humans Humanely,” FRC’s Arina Grossu urges in her new Townhall op-ed. Check it out and hear the latest in the fetal pain debate.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.