On the one hand, we have the Freedom From Religion Boors, sending off lawyer letters like a Gatling gun with the purpose of intimidating Christians — their target always seems to be Christians — into silence about their faith in public places. And on the other hand, we have that same FFRF, suing the federal government to force the IRS to “monitor” pastors for possible violations of the law in their sermons.
Enter Mayor Anise Parker of Houston, stage left.
Mayor Parker is embroiled in a fight with Houston residents over an ordinance the city council passed last spring. The ordinance is reputed to provide rather extensive legal “protection” to homosexuals and transgendereds.
That’s all well and good. Mayor Parker is Houston’s first lesbian mayor. Houstonians evidently like the job she’s done up until now. She was re-elected to her third and final term a year ago. Maybe she wanted to do something splendiferous for her mayoral swan song, and this new ordinance is it.
Politicians on the way out can become extraordinarily touchy about their “legacy.” I would guess that the first lesbian mayor of a large city would find no better legacy for herself than passing a land-mark gay rights act.
The trouble is political life is never a gimme. It’s always rough and tumble and, if you’re in office, you have to accept that. From the moment you report to work, the fight is on. Nothing ever comes easy in governing a democracy. Which is part of why it’s the best form of government there is; because elected officials do not get their way by proclamation. They’ve got to earn their victories in the political trenches of getting the votes and then defending the decisions to the pubic.
It appears that Mayor Parker forgot all that when she passed her legacy ordinance. She evidently shut down her ordinary thinking capacities where this ordinance was concerned and went into full-blown this-is-my-precious-legacy mode. I say that because it appears that she thought she could pass what was bound to be a controversial ordinance and there would be no flashback. How a three-term mayor could be so silly, I do not know.
So far, all this falls into the category of a seasoned mayor tossing everything she should have learned about governance aside and deciding to go all simple-minded and addle-pated over her pet mayoral victory. It looks for all the world like Mayor Parker entered the political arena over this ordinance — which was unavoidably going to draw serious push back — like a private citizen holding a dinner party in her own home. If the guests displeased her, she reserved the right to ask them to leave.
Here’s how it played out.
Opponents of the ordinance responded to its passage with a referendum petition to put the ordinance on the ballot and allow the citizens of Houston to vote on it. The petition garnered 50,000 signatures, which is a lot more than the needed 17,269. However the city threw it out, based on claims that it was “invalid.”
The petition’s backers responded to this with plans to take the city to court.
The city responded to that with subpoenas, demanding to see the all sermons and speeches given by pastors who had opposed the ordinance that mention Mayor anise Parker, homosexuality or gender identity.
Now, the pastors’ attorneys are seeking to quash the subpoenas on the grounds that, among other things, they request material relating to activities protected by the First Amendment.
“Political and social commentary is not a crime,” their attorney, Christina Holcomb said.
“We don’t comment on litigation,” the city’s spokesperson responded.
There is a problem here that goes a lot deeper than one mayor who’s let her office go to her head. Regardless of the overweening ego delusions elected officials held in the past, no elected official before, say, 2005, would have even considered stepping all over the First Amendment and America’s most cherished freedoms to criticize our government like this.
Now, it’s become a palm-slapping, fist-bumping coup in certain circles to use the law to harass and bully Christians. The underlying problem here is the permission that Christian bashers give themselves to use the law to harass, badger, bully and deliberately try to limit the freedoms of American citizens who happen to be Christian.
Mayor Parker is mis-using her powers big-time on this. She’s also directly violating the Constitutional right of all American citizens to criticize their elected officials and public policy in public forums.
Are these subpoenas an attempt to use governmental power to quash pubic debate about this ordinance?
Or course they are.
Has Mayor Parker abandoned her responsibilities as Houston’s chief governing officer to play gay rights advocate? Perhaps. She certainly appears to have lost every last bit of her political and governing smarts over this issue. She has embroiled the city in a needless lawsuit by refusing to allow citizens the use of their rightful tool, the referendum. She followed that with a ham-handed attempt to silence her critics through government intimidation in the form of outrageous subpoenas.
She has also created another avenue to use government power to attack Christians. Now that the subpoena box has been opened, you can bet that other goodies are going to come out of it.
“Political and social commentary is not a crime,” the pastors’ attorney tells us. I would go a step further and say that political and social commentary are one of America’s greatest gifts to the world. Our forefathers created a government that ran right in the face of those that had preceded it. They grew up in a world where people could be hanged for criticizing the king or his policies, and they turned that on its head.
Americans have the right to criticize their government, their elected officials and public policy pretty much however they wish. There are a few caveats concerning elected officials, but the limits to redress through the courts for slander are so extreme that it’s close to impossible to do it. So far as I know, it is truly impossible to slander a policy or an idea.
The mayor of Houston, whatever her overwrought feelings about a particular ordinance, does not have the right to use her office to intimidate and bully her critics into silence. She can not, as Queen Elizabeth I is reputed to have done, sit in a pew of the church of offending pastors and yell out “By God sir, I will not have this!”
Or rather, I suppose she could do that, but if she did, the pastor would be more likely to fall down laughing than to shake and shiver with fear.
We fought a whole war over this stuff.
And we won.
Now, American Christians are having to fight that war again, this time in the courts. To paraphrase the children’s song, If you’re Christian and they know it, hire your lawyer. You’re probably going to need one.