Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why Houston Subpoenaed Pastors’ Sermons

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaking at a rally in defense of the Houston pastors.
The hyperventilating among Christofascists over the decision of the City of Houston to subpoena the sermons of a small number of pastors seemingly knows no limits and one is hearing claims that it represents a war on Christians and rants about homo-fascists.  The real fascists, of course, are the Christofascists.  And then there's the real issue: whether or not these pastors were violating the laws that restrict the political activity of tax-exempt churches.  As noted countless times on this blog, the Christofascists believe they are above complying with the laws that govern the rest of us.  Think Progress looks at what is really behind the city of Houston's subpoenas.  Here are excerpts:

There has been a new clash this week in the fight over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a law that would protect LGBT individuals and other targeted groups from discrimination. The latest hubbub involves the city subpoenaing five pastors for their sermons, which has prompted conservatives to claim that religious liberty is under attack and that the subpoenas are a form of intimidation.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, was on Fox News last night claiming that Houston Mayor Annise Parker (D) is “taking a bulldozer to that wall of separation [of church and state]” and trying to “dictate what pastors preach.”

The Houston City Council approved HERO in May with a vote of 11-6. In addition to its inclusion of LGBT protections, it was actually the city’s first nondiscrimination bill protecting any classification, including race, sex, and religion. Houston was one of the only large cities in the country with no nondiscrimination policy on the books.

After the law passed, a coalition formed known as “No Unequal Rights,” spearheaded by local church groups like the Houston Area Pastor Council and Baptist Ministers Association of Houston. The anti-LGBT coalition began collecting signatures to challenge HERO with a referendum.

Enough of the pages were disqualified to bring the number of signatures below what was required, leading Feldman and Parker to announce that the petition effort had failed.  Opponents of the law responded by immediately filing a lawsuit against the city, demanding the referendum be placed on the ballot.

[T]he case largely hinges on the validity of the signatures and the process by which they were collected. A video posted by Equality Texas shortly after the suit was filed shows Pastor David Welch, director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, training signature collectors about the very city rules that Feldman used to disqualify entire pages of signatures. The subpoenas seek to collect additional information about how pastors like Welch communicated with their congregations about the petition process.

The subpoenas targeted five pastors in Houston: David Welch, Steve Riggle, Khan Huynh, Magda Hermida, and Hernan Castano. The requests seek documents related to the funding of the petition effort, t he training of petition circulators, and the messaging used to convince individuals to sign. What has particularly drawn conservative ire was the request for “All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

The fate of the subpoenas will ultimately be determined by the court. In the meantime, conservatives seem intent on using the controversy to spread myths about the petition, the implications of the subpoenas, and more of the same anti-LGBT rhetoric they used to unsuccessfully oppose HERO in the first place.

If these pastors and their churches were funding this petition effort, they have likely violated the provisions of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and should lose their tax exempt status.

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