In a country founded on the principle of individual freedom — to speak, to gather, to worship — we are right to be ever cautious of the state’s power and to jealously guard against intrusions into our liberties. That’s why the city of Houston’s recent sweeping subpoena seeking the sermons of five conservative pastors should rankle us all, regardless of political affiliation. Federal law strictly limits nonprofit churches, and preachers and pastors, from using the pulpit for politics. But there is a long and important tradition in our country of government staying far from the church door and knocking lightly when it must. That tradition wasn’t respected in Houston, to the discredit of its first openly gay mayor, Annise Parker.
Over the past week or so, there’s been a lot of Sturm und Drang over and disinformation peddled about the City of Houston issuing subpoenas to churches demanding copies of sermons. It’s been alleged Houston’s first openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker, along with her gay stormtrooper lawyers, are bullying churches into submission. How DARE she try to intimidate those who preach the word of God?…or so the outraged talking heads have us demanding.
The facts, as a reasonable person might imagine, are somewhat different from the breathless cries of “RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION!!” The subpoenas, issued by pro bono lawyers working for the city, aren’t things that Parker would likely have seen, much less authorized…not that this fact will stop those with an agenda from demanding Parker’s head on a pike. It’s a case of foolish, self-righteous, borderline irrationality, but the American Taliban seldom misses an opportunity to vent their considerable rage. With an openly lesbian mayor ruling Houston, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to imagine the degree of righteous fervor being employed to thwart her at every turn.
The City of Houston has pushed hard for equal rights…not a popular thing to be doing in the heart of a deeply godly and Conservative state. There are those who’d leave no stone unturned in their efforts to return the LGBT community to second-class status. Some of those efforts have originated in the pulpits of Houston’s churches. While those who call themselves Christians are certainly free to voice their opinions and work to effect whatever change they may deem appropriate, there’s a very real problem when churches become involved.
The federal tax code grants churches tax exempt status. In exchange for that status, the law requires churches to refrain from political advocacy. In the s—tstorm over the subpoenas, those claiming to be outraged have conveniently managed to forget this fact, because…God. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too: churches are certainly free to engage in political advocacy…but they cannot simultaneously enjoy tax exempt status.
Yes, the subpoenas were ham-handed and poorly thought out; of that there’s no question…but let’s not forget the other side of the equation. Churches simply don’t get to do and say what they wish when they wish to do so- unless they agree to pay their fair share of taxes. They can speak their mind…and pay their taxes, or they can refrain from engaging in political advocacy and maintain their tax exempt status.
Pretty simple, eh?
All this silliness aside, though, Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News did pose a very interesting question worthy of consideration: What if the City of Houston had gone after mosques instead of churches? Would the champions of religious freedom run over each other to get in front of the cameras and microphones? Somehow I think the righteous outrage would have been…muted at best.
Move along; no hypocrisy here, y’all….