Houston Pastors Fight City's Oversight of Sermons
Pastors in Houston and their attorneys are fighting back after the city subpoenaed sermons and 17 forms of the pastors' private communication.
It's the latest action in a legal battle over Houston's new Equal Rights Ordinance which creates special protections for homosexuals and transgenders.
"For a city government to step into churches and ask pastors to turn in sermons -- it's gone too far," said Houston Pastor Hernan Castano of Iglesia Rios De Aceite. "This is not what America, the nation, is about. And if they want to know what we preach, what we say -- we do live streaming services. We preach the Bible. We teach the Bible."
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, says he's stunned by the "audacity" of Houston officials.
"The preaching of sermons in the pulpits of churches is of no concern to any government bureaucrat at all. This country settled, a long time ago, with a First Amendment that the government would not supervise, license, or bully religious institutions," Moore wrote in his blog.
Area churches and Christian business owners say the new ordinance could penalize them for their biblical principles and undermine their constitutional right to speak out against homosexuality.
"They want to put fear in our hearts. They want to stop the people from expressing the right that they have to oppose abuse of power government, to oppose something that isn't right," Castano said.
More than 50,000 voters had signed a petition to begin a process to repeal the ordinance. Less than 18,000 signatures were needed, but the city still rejected the petition signatures.
And LGBT activists reportedly published the names and addresses of everyone who signed the Houston petition in a move that some are calling yet another act of intimidation.
The voters sued over the rejection of their petition.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing several Houston pastors. They say the city's move to target pastors is retaliation for the petition lawsuit.
"City council members are supposed to be public servants, not 'Big Brother' overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge," ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said. "In this case, they have embarked upon a witch-hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it."
"The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever," Moore vowed.