Subpoenas issued to a group of pastors ordering them to turn over sermons to the City of Houston made news headlines October 14. For several days, the only information I had was gleaned from a few passing references on TV and stories featured adjacent to other news I was reading. Some included a few lines of text with a bit more information. My “take away” was that the Houston mayor, who is openly homosexual, was going after area pastors because they disagreed with her and her policies, or alternatively, because they preach against homosexuality.
One brief TV discussion focused on the threat to fundamental religious liberties inherent in such an abuse of power by a governmental entity’s chief executive.
That focus was appropriate. Subpoenas to pastors? For their sermons?
In looking into this issue further, I find a number of lessons. The first is really more of a reminder: TV news coverage is about as deep as a puddle1If you’re wondering, the TV news coverage to which I was Fox News Channel.. Beyond that, I believe there are a lot of people who should find events in Houston relevant, especially if compared to events in their own cities. Some in Nebraska that come immediately to mind are Omaha, Grand Island and Lincoln. For Lincolnites especially, there are some fascinating and, I think, instructive parallels.
The pastoral subpoenas were issued by a law firm defending the City of Houston against an attempt to compel recognition of a referendum petition drive, conducted this past July, as successful. Success would mean immediate triggering of required actions associated with an ordinance approved by the Houston City Council at the end of May 2014, including reconsideration for repeal by the City Council or it would be subject to a public vote.
Does any of this sound familiar yet? If not, it very likely will, in short order.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO for short) expands discrimination protections to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”. Discrimination by employers, those engaged in the rental or sale of housing, or provision of “public accommodations” (restaurants, hotels, bars, etc.)2The prohibitions against discrimination also include city employment and contracts. against persons with such “Protected Characteristics” constitutes a Class C misdemeanor criminal offense and a fine of $250 – $500, but, in aggregate, up to $5,000.
The Omaha, Grand Island, and Lincoln City Councils passed very similar ordinances in 20123For those wishing to refresh their memories regarding events in Lincoln, see our articles on the subject: Why Every Lincoln Voter Should Sign ...continue.
Among the many concerns on the rise even since 2012, and listed as number one by opponents in Houston, is the use of female restrooms and changing facilities by males. Besides the loss of basic privacy, more urgently noted is the potential for increased sexual predation. As predicted by common sense and vocalized by opponents of such ordinances in Lincoln and elsewhere, there have been incidents of indecent exposure and assault by men using the new ordinances as a ruse to gain access to female facilities – see footnote4Two examples include a convicted sexual predator who committed a series of assaults in Toronto, Canada, women’s shelters who claimed to be ...continue.
Like the ordinance passed in Lincoln, Houston’s includes a provision which exempts religious organizations. But it doesn’t protect individual Christian business-owners who wish to live their faith beyond the walls of their home or church. Concerns are growing across the country due to the increasing number of business owners charged with crimes and/or assessed penalties for refusing to provide goods and services related to marriages for homosexual couples, like the couple in New York state who refused to allow a lesbian ceremony at their rural event venue and were fined $13,000; the married couple, both ordained ministers, who are facing jail time and fines for refusing to marry homosexuals in their Idaho wedding chapel; and the Washington state florist who was fined $2,000 for refusing to provide flowers for a homosexual wedding. I could go on, and on.
Both the Lincoln and Houston City Councils passed these ordinances despite remarkable public opposition. As in Lincoln, legions of Houston citizens appeared to voice their vehement objections at the City Council meetings when the ordinances were scheduled for a vote.
In Lincoln, two pro-family Christian groups anticipated the Council’s approval and so immediately organized a referendum petition drive to both stop the ordinance from going into effect and require a public vote5We here at GiN did provide some assistance with this petition drive, such as providing a way for people to download the forms and documents.. Immediate action was vital due to the incredibly short 15 day window in Lincoln’s Municipal Code for gathering the required number of signatures.
While the City of Houston grants a slightly longer window of 30 days, a broader coalition of many local groups, including a considerable number of pastors6Many news reports regarding the petition drive note the pastors’ involvement, with some crediting various pastors as leading the effort. ...continue, also launched their petition drive immediately following their Council’s vote.
Lincoln Municipal Code required 2,500 signatures for a successful effort: over 10,000 were collected. Houston’s signature requirement was just under 17,300 – over 55,000 were collected – with more than 31,000 of them “pre-verified” as registered voters7First, for those both curious about what the expression”pre-verified voter” means and how groups and organizations conduct operations: ...continue.
Lincoln City officials acknowledged the petition drive as successful but no statements were made regarding either a reconsideration by the Council or the scheduling of a public vote. Turns out there is a loophole in City Code: there is no stated deadline for the required steps. Mayor Chris Beutler and City Council members clearly decided to throw the petitions into the loophole, which here in Lincoln, is the equivalent of an intergalactic black hole8A July 2013 Lincoln Journal Star article, “No vote in sight for Lincoln’s Fairness Ordinance” was published two months after a ...continue.
Houston’s City code is clearer: successful petition drives automatically trigger immediate action in precise terms: ordinances at issue can’t go into effect, the City Council must vote up or down to repeal in toto, and, if they don’t, the matter must be put up for a public vote at the next election (or a special election if the Council chooses9Having read the section from Houston City Code, I do wonder whether language’s inclusion of “at the discretion of” regarding the ...continue).
BUT, as arrogant and hell-bent politicians are wont to do, the Mayor of Houston (with at least the acquiescence of Council members) decided SOMETHING had to be done to prevent the coveted ordinance from being revisited.
The next article in this series reveals what Mayor Annise Parker, with the assistance of the City Attorney did to derail the petition drive challenging the ordinance.
In the meantime, it’s worth pondering this subject one week before an election. Voters in Houston, Texas and Lincoln, Nebraska SHOULD have one very particular measure on their ballots next Tuesday that simply isn’t there. The missing ballot questions were “disappeared” by corrupt officials.
Voters in Lincoln and Houston are lawfully entitled to determine whether or not special protections originally provided for people with immutable characteristics (innate, unchanging), should be extended to people on the basis of chosen conduct or a preferred label regarding conduct. Most importantly, we voters in both cities should be deciding whether we really want to see the results of that policy occur in our two cities.
With ballot questions “disappeared”, perhaps the only thing we can do for the moment is to carefully consider how the broader implications might impact our decisions on the items that DO actually appear on next Tuesday’s ballots.
AND, finally, to question, to begin with, how many of us, our friends, family, etc., can answer the following question…
When is the next LOCAL ELECTION10If my reading and calculations are correct, the next City of Lincoln primary election will be April 6, 2015, and the general election will be May 5, ...continue?
Houston City Hall entrance, public domain
Lincoln City-County Building, Tarah Dawdy
Black hole artist rendering, Alain r
Notes & References [ + ]
|1.||↑||If you’re wondering, the TV news coverage to which I was Fox News Channel.|
|2.||↑||The prohibitions against discrimination also include city employment and contracts.|
|3.||↑||For those wishing to refresh their memories regarding events in Lincoln, see our articles on the subject: Why Every Lincoln Voter Should Sign Referendum Petition, Why Process Matters, LAST CALL: Not Signed a Petition Yet? AND A Toast, and the page we dedicated to the issue.|
|4.||↑||Two examples include a convicted sexual predator who committed a series of assaults in Toronto, Canada, women’s shelters who claimed to be “transgender” and indecent exposure by a 45-year-old man (going by the name “Colleen”) to a group of high school girls in a women’s locker room at a Washington state college. It’s worth wondering how many sexual assaults in restrooms have been properly categorized as related to the “gender identity” issue, whether there are ordinances in place or not. Public restrooms are, not surprisingly, a public safety concern, such that police department safety guidelines advise they are to be avoided, if at all possible.|
|5.||↑||We here at GiN did provide some assistance with this petition drive, such as providing a way for people to download the forms and documents.|
|6.||↑||Many news reports regarding the petition drive note the pastors’ involvement, with some crediting various pastors as leading the effort. Further, some churches publicized information about the drive on their websites.|
|7.||↑||First, for those both curious about what the expression”pre-verified voter” means and how groups and organizations conduct operations: from my read of court documents surrounding events in Houston, someone involved with the petition drive organizing either maintained (unlikely), purchased, or one-time leased a registered voters list from a governmental entity, political party or political organization. Apparently, official voter registration numbers were noted on petition signature forms for signers who were among the 31,000 reported as “pre-verified”.|
|8.||↑||A July 2013 Lincoln Journal Star article, “No vote in sight for Lincoln’s Fairness Ordinance” was published two months after a local election and fourteen months after the successful petition drive. One of the two organizations which organized the drive said they had no plans to legally challenge City officials on their failure to hold the public vote as required by law. Article link: http://journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/no-vote-in-sight-for-lincoln-s-fairness-ordinance/article_ed49ee63-2964-58a6-8ff6-301e3cd48101.html Since LJS recently made articles inaccessible unless/until visitors answer invasive (and often stupid) questions, I’m no longer going to provide anything other than raw links to their site. You, the reader can decide whether to use those links or not.|
|9.||↑||Having read the section from Houston City Code, I do wonder whether language’s inclusion of “at the discretion of” regarding the special election option provides the same sort of loophole that exists in Lincoln’s Municipal Code.|
|10.||↑||If my reading and calculations are correct, the next City of Lincoln primary election will be April 6, 2015, and the general election will be May 5, 2015. The City of Lincoln Charter sets forth these dates: for the primary, “the fourth Tuesday preceding…” the general election, which is, “the first Tuesday in May of every odd-numbered year”|