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article imageOp-Ed: Liberals and Conservatives — Houston ignored rights of churches

By Mike White     Oct 18, 2014 in World
Houston - It is rare when liberals, conservatives, the ACLU and conservative Christians agree. They have agreed that the city of Houston, Texas was wrong for subpoenaing sermons that might be critical of the newly passed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.
The Houston Chronicle reported the Houston City Council passed the ordinance 11-6. Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city had promised to introduce just such a measure.
The implied purpose of the measure was to provide equal rights protections to gay and transgender residents. The measure banned discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as race, ethnicity, sex, age, national origin, pregnancy, disability and genetic information. It also bans discrimination on the basis of military family or marital status.
According to christiannews.net, opponents of the measure were most concerned with the provision that allows men to use women's restrooms, as well as shower rooms or similar facilities and vice versa.
“It shall be unlawful for any place of public accommodation or any employee or agent thereof to intentionally deny any person entry to any restroom, shower room, or similar facility if that facility is consistent with and appropriate to that person’s expression of gender identity,” the text of the ordinance states.
The ordinance does require those who use an opposite sex's facilities must behave in a manner "consistent with the gender designation" of the facility.
In June, after the bill was passed, a petition, with more than 55,000 signatures was introduced in the city that City Council repeal the measure or put it on the ballot for voters to decide, with 17,846 of the signatures later deemed acceptable, out of a required minimum of 17,269. A number of area pastors led the repeal petition, and in response Mayor Parker and the city attorney rejected it, with the attorney issuing discovery requests for the copies of the sermons of the pastors, to see whether the pastors had ever spoken against the ordinance or the city.
The Christian Post reported even the liberal ACLU, not usually a friend of pastors or other people of faith, said the "government must use special care when intruding into matters of faith. The government should never engage in fishing expeditions into the inner workings of a church, and any request for information must be carefully tailored to seek only what is relevant to the dispute."
The ACLU noted the city has since said its first subpoenas were "too broad and that there is no need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston."
The ACLU added that even though it supports the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (which I might add many might have a problem with because of the bathroom issue, even though they may support housing or employment rights for all), the city should have never included "sermons in the subpoena in the first place."
In addition to the ACLU, liberal and conservative Baptist pastors, also sent a letter to the city criticizing its open intrusion into the sermons of pastors and its disregard of the First Amendment.
"We disagree on many things, but, as Baptists, we have a long history of support for religious liberty and separation of church and state. On that, we stand united," the letter stated.
"Whatever a church or synagogue or mosque or any other religious body believes about marriage or sexuality, the preaching and teaching of those bodies should be outside the scope of government intimidation or oversight," the letter added.
Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott also wrote to Houston City Attorney David Feldman to say the city was wrong in its actions and told it to back off, according to Fox News.
He called the subpoenas “aggressive and invasive” and claimed they show “no regard for the very serious First Amendment considerations at stake.”
“Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment,” the letter stated, demanding the subpoenas be withdrawn.
"You should immediately instruct your lawyers to withdraw the city’s subpoenas,” Abbott added.
The city later issued a statement to the Wall Street Journal, saying the subpoenas were issued by pro bono attorneys and that the mayor and David Feldman were not aware of them.
As of October 16, Fox news added, however, the subpoenas had not been withdrawn or narrowed. Reportedly, the subpoenas also requested e-mails and text messages from the pastors on issues for which they disagreed with the mayor. The subpoenas also requested sermons or correspondence the referred to the mayor.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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