Religious Freedom

The City of Houston and the Separation of Church and State

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Despite an exemption for religious institutions from an ordinance aimed at providing equal rights and opportunities to the Houston Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, the city has subpoenaed sermons given by evangelical pastors who spoke out against the city ordinance. The ordinance has not been put into effect, and has already faced a call for a repeal vote, which was denied despite having more than the required 17,269 signatures. After the denial for a recall vote, several Christians sued the city over the failure to allow for a recall vote, and the city subsequently violated the First Amendment Rights of pastors across Houston by forcing them to turn over sermons related to the ordinance, the petition for a recall, the mayor, or anything related to the LGBT community.

According to Houston city officials, these pastors used their pulpits for political organization against the ordinance, to garner support for the recall vote, and speak out against the failure of Houston to allow for that vote. However, the city has no evidence that these Christian pastors did any such thing, and the lawmakers are hoping to find evidence through the broad subpoenas. The separation of Church and State in the United States declares that the State cannot meddle in the affairs of the Church, and vice versa. The U.S. Government regularly asserts its power to declare what does and does not qualify as the Church meddling in the affairs of the State, but the Government fails to assert what does and does not qualify as the State meddling in the affairs of the Church.

The situation in Houston is a clear example of the State overstepping the boundaries established by the First Amendment and forcing the Church to bend to its will. Without evidence that these Christian pastors used their pulpits to rally support against the ordinance, the city of Houston cannot, legally, subpoena the sermons. The Government cannot “grasp at straws” when it comes to the First Amendment. If the Government wishes to invoke the separation of Church and State, it must have definitive proof that the Church has overreached. But without such proof, the State must allow representatives of the Church to do as they wish with the understanding that as representatives of the Church, they are limited in what they may and may not discuss from the pulpit.

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