Jesus said, "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no.'" Unfortunately, that'll be a lot harder for Houston voters in the next election. Thanks to an administration that apparently sees people as a nuisance in their advance of an anti-religious freedom agenda, voters will have to pay extra close attention this November, when the Houston bathroom bill is finally on the ballot. Mayor Annise Parker is up to her old tricks -- the most recent being her intentional manipulation of the ballot language. Although she and the rest of the council have no choice but to bring the issue up for a vote, they still plan on using every stunt in the book to protect the measure -- including muddying the question's wording.
Under the city's charter, four members argued, it's wrong for voters to have to vote "yes" on repealing the ordinance but "no" on keeping it. "[T]he charter tells us... that we must put an ordinance on the ballot where qualified voters at such elections shall vote 'in favor.' So 'in favor' means, 'Yes, implement HERO [the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance],'" they said. Obviously, Parker is banking on the fact that most people will show up to the polling booth and vote "no," thinking they're opposing the ordinance. Instead, "no" is a vote against repeal -- which is a counterintuitive (and potentially counter-charter) means of phrasing things.
The city council isn't fighting fair because it knows it can't win fair. If opening up bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms to any gender were as popular as liberals argue it is, they wouldn't have to deceive people! At least one member, C.O. Bradford, was outraged that the city was playing games on such a serious issue. Even the local press accused Mayor Parker of trying to pull a fast one on voters by creating intentional confusion. Yet when Bradford offered an amendment trying to clarify the verbiage, he lost. Now, the outcome of HERO's repeal could hang on a single word. "Shall the city of Houston implement" or "Shall the city repeal?"
That may be a question for the courts, since conservatives vow they won't stand for any more of the Mayor's chicanery. Over the past two years, both sides have worn a path to the courthouse, filing suits and countersuits over the idea that local conservatives and Christians should be punished for not embracing this radical redefinition of nature's law -- and Houston's. "I guess it'll be back to the courthouse again and that's unfortunate," Bradford told reporters, "because we could get it right and we could move this thing forward for the voters to vote on it, and not spend hundreds of thousands of additional dollars. But I think that's where we are."
Of course, we've seen these political shenanigans from LGBT activists before. On marriage amendments, initiatives, and other voter-driven efforts, the Left tries to gain every possible advantage. That's what people do when they can't win on facts: they sabotage the process -- or worse, they rob the people of their voice, which is what Mayor Parker did last year. Fortunately for Texans, their Supreme Court is returning to the people the power they deserve, but that isn't stopping the city council from trying to disorient the opposition. In case the Left hasn't learned by now, that won't deter local churches.
Meanwhile, in a separate suit, some members of the "Houston Five" are working to win back the half-million dollar legal burden Parker put on them when she hauled HERO's objectors to court. "She trampled the voting rights of over a million people in the fourth largest city in the United States of America," the group's attorney said at this week's press conference. "And so we're here today to say... there's going to be accountability for doing that. We are not going to sit idly by and let you do that." For more from our friends on the ground, check out the interview I did on Tuesday's "Washington Watch" with one of the plaintiffs, Pastor Hernon Castano.
There may be a recess for Congress, but there's no recess from Planned Parenthood's problems. While the Senate scatters for vacation, the states are keeping the heat on Cecile Richards's group. With a fifth video released this week -- one of the most disturbing yet -- local leaders have no intentions of letting Planned Parenthood off the hook. For Richards's organ harvesters, the month has gone from bad to worse.
Yesterday's double-whammy was a significant one in two states, where both Florida and New Hampshire took steps to severely limit Planned Parenthood's work. As part of Governor Rick Scott's (R) investigations, health officials found plenty of evidence of wrongdoing in the Sunshine State, where three of Richards's centers were ordered to stop performing second-trimester abortions. In every instance, the clinics were caught without licensing -- and one wasn't keeping legal logs on the babies' remains.
For now, the offices' activities have been restricted, with the possibility of even stronger punishment to come. In one of the greatest ironies, Florida inspectors reminded the group who claims to care about women's health that "licenses are in place to protect the patient from unscrupulous operators..." During a surprise visit to the St. Petersburg and Ft. Myers facilities, the state found almost a year's worth of violations. Each one, the Wall Street Journal points out, carries at least a $500 fine. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood will have to hurry to put together a "correction plan," which the state is demanding in 10 days.
Up north, the news was just as bleak for the President's favorite "nonprofit." In the first of hopefully several such votes, the New Hampshire Executive Council cancelled its Planned Parenthood contracts, worth $639,000. That's bound to hurt, especially since Richards's group had been enjoying two-thirds of the state's "family planning" money. "You can't divorce what's going on nationally from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and we need a real investigation," said GOP Councilor David Wheeler, who voted with three others to sever ties. Interestingly enough, the state itself never opened a formal probe into local Planned Parenthoods. "We do not launch investigations in New Hampshire on rumor" was Governor Maggie Hassan's (D) flippant response.
Republican Chris Sununu, who had previously supported the state's partnership with Planned Parenthood, sided with conservatives. Like a growing number of abortion supporters, he believes there are better alternatives for New Hampshire than an organization so callously removed from reality. "Things are different now," he explained. "We have to take a step back and just take a pause and say, 'Is this a company and a business that we should be actively engaging?'" Congress will have four weeks to ask themselves the same question. Let's hope they come back with the same answer.
This past Tuesday, FRC had the privilege of hosting an event called "Radical Islam and Christian Persecution: What's Happening in the Middle East and Africa." Some of the recent developments regarding religious freedom violations around the world were discussed -- with special focus on the actions of Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in the Middle East. No doubt, these issues are on every American's mind -- but as we head into the Republican Presidential debate, we hope they're on the candidates' minds as well.
Speaker Doug Bandow, a Stanford-educated attorney from the Cato Institute, gave an insightful overview of the status of religious liberty worldwide -- paying particular attention to the fallout for religious liberty (of Christians and others) from ISIS operations in the Middle East. Mr. Bandow has extensive experience in public life (he served as a Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan) and a deep knowledge of foreign policy, and expressed concern at some of the United States' foreign policy missteps from the State Department.
Our other guest was Emmanual Ogebe, an international human rights lawyer who was exiled to the United States after being a political detainee of an earlier Nigerian military dictatorship. A recognized expert on religious persecution in Nigeria, Mr. Ogebe has testified before Congress and was instrumental to the International Criminal Court's decision to examine Boko Haram for crimes against humanity. As he told the audience, it's time to be honest about Boko Haram's motivations -- which stem from radical Islamic ideology -- and how this recognition is necessary to truly tackle the problems in Nigeria.
The Director of FRC's Center for Religious Liberty, Travis Weber, hosted the panel and in closing reminded our guests that although these problem are grave, we must remember the truth that God walks with believers through dark places (as He did for Damaris Atsen, a Nigerian woman who has an amazing testimony of God's comforting presence and power in the aftermath of Boko Haram killing her husband). This truth about God should bring us hope even as we face the daunting challenges for religious liberty around the world. In the meantime, our job is to communicate these threats and protect the ability for others to communicate them (and ask our leaders to protect this universal human right) no matter where it is exercised around the world. You can watch the full event here.
** Who will stop the sanctuary madness? Ken Blackwell tries to answer in his pre-debate piece for CNSNews.com, available here.
*** If you want to know what the GOP can do to appeal to African-Americans, don't miss this interview with FRC's Bishop E.W. Jackson on today's "Fox & Friends."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.