Politicians and reporters cry “Big Brother” almost every day. This is probably way more often than necessary, but a recent Fox News story definitely warrants the accusation. In a ridiculous abuse of power, Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s attorneys have demanded that some Houston area pastors, priests, and ministers hand in “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [her proposed HERO legislation], the Petition [against it], Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by [them] or in [their] possession.” These church leaders are being examined because the government suspects them of using the pulpit to organize a petition drive to repeal Mayor Parker’s Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). A petition which, after the city secretary signed off on the over 55,000 signatures–quite a few more than the required 17,269–city attorney David Feldman was conveniently able to discard by disqualifying 38,000 of the signatures for being printed or “illegible.”
So what is in this HERO legislation that has incited such a response from the public and from religious communities? The bill is a complex tapestry of anti-discrimination rules that are “incomprehensible to [Texas lawyer-extraordinaire John O’Neill], but full of hooks, traps, and unintended consequences.” Among other complications, this piece of legislation protects people from discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. in public and private businesses, accommodations, and housing (exempting churches). Essentially, the only new thing between this and previous ordinances is the addition of provisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
One concern, expressed by Dr. Steven Hotze, is the issue that this legislation may lead to a new form of affirmative action in the form of hiring quotas based on sexual orientation and even pregnancy (another point on which discrimination is forbidden according to HERO). This would unnecessarily complicate the hiring process even further, and may force business owners to choose employees out of fear of government fines and cries of discrimination rather than based on who is the best candidate for employment. This would undoubtedly hurt the business world and do no favors for the already barely-surviving economy.
The most controversial portion of HERO was one that was allegedly changed before the ordinance passed. The word “accommodations” includes provisions for individuals to use the restroom, shower facilities, locker rooms, etc. of whichever gender they identify with, and this was rightly contested by Dr. Hotze and others because of its can-of-worms nature. Jared Woodfill of the Harris County Republican Party points out that “this provision subjects women and girls [or even young men] to sexual predators who are allegedly confused by their gender identity.” In short, what is to stop a pervert from claiming to identify as a woman just so that he can go into otherwise inaccessible places to see naked women? The world already has enough of these problems without adding this convenient doorway for criminals and perverts to put their foot into. Hotze’s reason for opposing this provision is simple, intelligent, and until recently would have been universally accepted: he wants to protect his wife, daughter, and all the other innocent women and children of America. With rape-culture being shouted left and right, one would think that protecting women from perverts would be a commonly shared goal. But on this issue, we have instead decided to trust the greater good of humanity, a very poor decision indeed. Yes, we need to be teaching kids to grow up to be productive, non-perverse, law-abiding, respectful adults, but the truth is, people are not robots! Some of them are still going to do what they shouldn’t.
It seems only natural to me that area churches would have a hand in a petition to repeal this piece of offensive legislation. But the liberal administration took action to quash these efforts by tossing out the petition, as stated above. They did not have the power to do this, not after the city secretary had already approved the petition. It is an obvious abuse of authority, and no one seems to want to call them out on it! Then, to go one step farther, Mayor Parker decided to prevent any other future disruptions by employing intimidation tactics. When did city mayors and their cohorts become all-powerful?
Also: Does it seem strange to anyone else that liberal media and supporters seem ever-ready to smack people around with the “separation of church and state” clause whenever churches try to influence law, but are silent on the issue when the law tries to strong-arm local churches? After all, this petition was signed by 55,000 citizens! Regardless of whether or not churches were involved, it needs to be accepted.
While it may be legal for the mayor to demand to see these documents from pastors (depending largely on what is allowed under Texas state law), it doesn’t seem like legalities are the main focus of this controversy. In fact, it isn’t mentioned in the news stories at all. The reasons for these demands seem to all point to Mayor Parker’s paranoia that someone is talking bad about her, her ordinance, or her “gay brothers and sisters.” This is a control issue. The HERO law does not apply to religious organizations at all, yet they feel they need to bully these outspoken churches into going along with their plans. Even if the city’s suspicion that these pastors were preaching opposition to HERO from the pulpit is true, the only laws that would clearly prohibit pastors from doing this would be based on the church’s tax status. Otherwise, they have the same power as individuals to create petitions and raise support on their own. These types of actions are expressly protected by the First Amendment. It makes no more sense for the mayor and those representing her to demand these documents than it would for them to demand to see the personal email accounts of Houston residents who may have urged their friends not to vote for her.
It does strike me as interesting and ironic, however, that the mayor and her affiliates are going through so much trouble to subpoena copies of what are essentially public presentations. Sermons are not secret documents, but are openly presented to crowds of people. This leads me to believe that the scheme of demanding to examine them may be only a ploy to intimidate pastors. If the city knew they may face backlash and wanted to know what the pastors were preaching, they could simply have attended the church services in the first place. The clergymen, however, are not fooled by the city’s tactics and will not back down. Other people of faith across the country have voiced their support for these churches as well by mailing hundreds of bibles to Mayor Parker’s office.
This realization that the pastors and priests of Houston will not be so easily pushed around led to a development reported by the Wall Street Journal a day later: It seems the mayor actually had no idea about the subpoenas demanding pastors’ documents and, furthermore, realizes the language was far too broad. The wording of the subpoenas has been amended, although there seems to be no significant change.
In the same way, although the open-bathroom provision portion of the HERO was removed, Mayor Parker tweeted that while they “remov[ed] the language singl[ing them] out,” transgender constituents are still “fully protected in the Equal Rights Ordinance,” calling these individuals her “trans sisters/brothers.” What was meant by this cryptic tweet? No one seems to be sure. A change to the law was made, and yet she is suggesting that the change didn’t change anything?
It seems clear that Mayor Parker thinks that no one will hold her accountable. Jared Woodfill’s assertion that she is “forcing her liberal social agenda on the City of Houston” seems to be spot on: although she allegedly promised while campaigning not to promote her “gay agenda,” she seems to have her hand in in everyone’s business in an attempt to further gay rights. Interestingly, I haven’t heard of anything else she has done for the city of Houston.