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'Houston 5' pastor: Sermon fight 'hit nerve' for America

Bob Unruh/WND

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Oct. 20, 2014

Houston Mayor Annise Parker

One of the five Houston pastors subpoenaed by his city for sermons and other communications regarding homosexuality told WND he’s a little surprised by the national attention given the dispute.

Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston area U.S. Pastor Council, said it was “just one of those God things.”

“I don’t think anyone could have remotely predicted the level of response from the nation,” Welch told WND on Monday.

“It just hit a nerve. It was just one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments where the veil of how far we are down the road to tyranny was pulled back,” he said. “For some reason, thankfully, it still reveals some reverence for the church and religion.”

WND broke the story a week ago of the city’s response to a lawsuit against an ordinance passed in May that allows “gender confused” people to use public facilities designated for the opposite sex. Opponents of the Equal Rights Ordinance sued when their apparently successful petition drive to place the issue on the election ballot was tossed out. They charge City Attorney Dave Feldman and Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian, summarily dismissed thousands of valid signatures. In the discovery process for a scheduled January trial, the city subpoenaed Welch and four other pastors for any sermons or church communications that mention the ordinance or the mayor. Though they have been active opponents of the law, the five pastors are not party to the lawsuit.

WND reported outrage from across the nation ensued, and lawyers with the Alliance Defending Freedom asked a court to throw out the subpoenas. Amid the protest, city officials at first doubled down, with Parker stating, “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.” But Houston officials then said they would narrow the scope of their demand to “speeches” instead of sermons, a move ADF legal counsel Joe La Rue said was “wholly inadequate.”

Christiana Holcom, ADF litigation counsel, dismissed the notion that the city had in any way backed off.

“The shame that the city of Houston has brought upon itself is real, but the claim that it has changed course is not. The city has so far taken no concrete action to withdraw the subpoenas. Furthermore, the subpoenas themselves are the problem – not just their request for pastors’ sermons,” she said.

Monday was the due date for a city response to an order by the state Supreme Court to justify the rejection of thousands of signatures. Welch also said the pastors were awaiting a ruling on whether or not the subpoenas would be canceled by the courts.

Welch said the city’s demand for the sermons is generating a huge wave of opposition. Rallies are being planned, including one two days before the mid-term elections, and local officials are facing protest from their friends, neighbors and business acquaintances.

“This is not just a traditional, religious conservative issue,” he said. “It hits home for [many] people.”

He said even civil libertarians who might not otherwise be on the side of churches are coming forward in support of free speech and religious rights.

“We’ve been fighting to expose the highjacking of the civil rights movement, to stop them from gaining this ground,” Welch said.

Flood of sermons

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested every pastor across America send Houston Mayor Annise Parker a sermon and urged others to send her Bibles. Several pastors reported to WND they were sending sermons.

Martial arts champion, film and television star and now social activist Chuck Norris wondered how government officials could not realize “a sermon is a speech.”

“Such action reminds me of the words of Forrest Gump and his mother, ‘Stupid is as stupid does,’” he wrote.

He provided the mayor’s contact information for those who want to voice their opposition:

Mayor Annise D. Parker

City of Houston

P.O. Box 1562 Houston, Texas 77251

Phone: (713) 837-0311


Members of Congress and pastors from other cities have expressed alarm.

In a weekend statement, Senior Pastor Wilfredo De Jesus of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago said: “It’s a sad day in the United States of America, in the land of the free, when the First Amendment rights of religious leaders are being trampled on by a mayor for political gain and/or exposure.”

He said pastors have an obligation to share the Gospel.

“I accept the fact that what I preach may be considered by some as controversial and not accepted as popular. What I will not accept is a government body deploying bullying tactics that perpetuate an environment of hate toward Christians and bigotry toward our Christian beliefs,” he said.

Huckabee wants to see Parker receive “thousands and thousands of sermons and Bibles.”


Several petitions have been launched in support of the pastors, including one from Faith Driven Consumer that calls for an end to the “aggressive bullying” of the pastors. It set a goal of 10,000 signatures.

Founder Chris Stone said he wants the city “to unequivocally reverse course and end their harassment of five respected area pastors.”

A petition by Family Research Council had more than 35,000 signatures heading into the weekend.

WND columnist Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson called Parker’s actions an “unprecedented attack against religious freedom and free speech rights.”

“Christian pastors threaten the LGBT’s scheme to normalize abhorrent behavior. If we don’t stop the attack on these Houston pastors, the left will surely be emboldened to use their Gestapo-like tactics against any other group that opposes them, and we’ll end up like Canada,” he said.

Norris said: “If [City Attorney David] Feldman and Parker need a primer on the First Amendment, then let them know that America’s founders drafted it even to protect political speech by preachers!”

He continued: “I’m a Texan and it chaps my hide when some homegrown kibosh of the U.S. Constitution originates in the Lone Star State. We, above all, should be leading the way in liberty. I respect all people and persuasions, but Parker and Feldman’s move is nothing but a political maneuver to suppress dissenting voice and religious opinion.

“I dislike vulgar, profane and hate language as much as anyone. But America has a protection for its expression: It’s called the First Amendment, and I am tired of people trampling it by wrongly interpreting it as a right for only feel-good expression. Even hate language is protected under that leading tenet of our Bill of Rights.”

One of the other subpoenaed pastors is Khanh Huynh of the Vietnamese Baptist Church in Houston, who lived under the communist regime in Vietnam before participating in the great boatlift.

In an interview, he told WND he left Vietnam because of the repression and absence of freedom of religion, speech and association.

Describing the city’s move as an “intimidation tactic,” Huynh told WND that as a pastor and Christian, he must express perspectives on moral issues “without government oversight.”

“We voice our opinion. We’re standing for righteousness on a moral issue. The issue is that we have got to stand up for our belief,” he explained. “We will not back down.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the subpoenas “unbefitting of Texans, and it’s un-American.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., joined him.

“I stand with the pastors and churches in Houston against government interference and harassment,” he said.

Paul noted the First Amendment “doesn’t exist to keep religion out of government.”

“It exists to keep government out of religion.”

Enabling sexual predators

The lawsuit challenging Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance alleges the city violated its own charter in its adoption of the law, which in May designated homosexuals and transgender persons as a protected class.

Critics say the measure effectively enables sexual predators who dress as women to enter female public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities. A coalition of activists that includes area pastors filed suit Aug. 6 against the city and Parker after officials announced a voter petition to repeal the measure didn’t have enough signatures to qualify for the election ballot.

According to a deposition from Houston city Secretary Anna Russell, her office had counted 19,177 signatures in the petition to repeal the measure and then stopped, because the qualifying number of 17,269 signatures already had been reached, with a margin.

The pastors’ coalition explained, “Her position is that it would be a waste of resources to continue to count when we clearly and easily had met the city charter standard.”

However, the deposition revealed that the mayor and the city attorney, Feldman, then simply overturned the result.

Russell said she was told to add the following statement to her count: “According to the city attorney’s office and reviewed by the city secretary the analysis of the city attorney’s office, 2,750 pages containing 16,010 signatures do not contain sufficient acknowledgment as required by the charter. Therefore, according to the city attorney’s office only 2,449 pages containing 15,249 signatures can lawfully be considered toward the signatures required.”

WND has reported similar measures in other jurisdictions across the country. Opponents point to incidents such a man in Indianapolis who allegedly went into a women’s locker room at a YMCA and watched girls, ages 7 and 10, shower.

Opposition in Houston was led by a coalition including the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston, the Houston Area Pastor Council, the Houston Ministers against Crime, AME Ministers Alliance of Houston/Gulf Coast, the Northeast Ministers Alliance, the South Texas Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship, the South Texas District of the Assemblies of God and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Critics dubbed the Houston law the “sexual predator protection act,” claiming that by designating transgender or gender-confused persons as a protected class, women and children are threatened by predators seeking to exploit the ordinance’s ambiguous language.

Similar cases also have erupted in Maryland, Florida and Colorado, which adopted a radical “transgender nondiscrimination” bill in 2008 that makes it illegal to deny a person access to public accommodations, including restrooms and locker rooms, based on gender identity or the “perception” of gender identity. One consequence of the law is a ruling forcing authorities to permit 6-year-old Coy Mathis – a boy who says he thinks he’s a girl – to use the girls’ bathroom at his elementary school.

Nationwide, 17 states and the District of Columbia have embraced the transsexual agenda. Rhode Island added “gender identity and expression” to its anti-discrimination law in June with the support of Gov. Jack Markell, and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden announced his support in an Equality Delaware video.


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