Article Nov 2, 2015

Proposition 1: Fighting for religious liberty in Houston

Proposition 1 is a ballot initiative on HERO—Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance—a proposed sexual orientation, gender identity, nondiscrimination law. The ordinance is more commonly known as "the bathroom ordinance" as it includes regulations for the use of restrooms and locker rooms in the city limits. Any individual in our city would be allowed to use whichever gender based restroom or locker room they most identify with that day. For example, any male in our city would be free to enter a women's restroom or locker room simply by claiming he self-identifies as a female. Churches would be exempt from the proposed ordinance.

Proposition 1 is an unacceptable proposal on at least two major levels:

First, it is a clear infringement on religious liberty in our city. Every private business owner should be free to operate their business according to their personal beliefs without the fear of unjust government punishment. The government was formed to be freedom's greatest protector, not its greatest threat. We surrender to Caesar what is Caesar’s: tax money. But we surrender to God what is God's: our conscience. If Prop 1 passes, private business owners who are Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Christian and more will be forced to operate their private businesses contrary to their personal convictions.

Proposition 1 is also a significant infringement on the safety and privacy of many people in our city. All women and young girls should be free to use public restrooms and locker rooms in Houston without fear of a man watching them in their most vulnerable state. This ordinance will provide cover for perverted and malicious individuals to access our women and children. Surely there are solutions to sexual orientation, gender identity and public service challenges whose costs do not have to be carried by the young girls of our city.

Evangelicals nationally may not realize this ordinance is directly related to the Houston city government issuing sermon subpoenas to five Houston pastors in the Fall of 2016; the fight over this matter has been going on for eighteen months. The Mayor of Houston had this ordinance put into law by the City Council. Fortunately, city law also allows Houston citizens to collect a certain number of signatures on a petition and force a city council decision to be brought to a public vote. Thousands more signatures were collected than the minimum necessary. Every signature was accompanied by detailed and verified information. The petitions were notarized. The Mayor promptly had her City attorney invalidate the signatures. She simultaneously attempted to bully Houston pastors by issuing far-reaching subpoenas to five high profile pastors, demanding all sermons, emails, letters and text messages. Houston pastors were undeterred. The petitions were appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court who ruled 7-0 that the signatures are indeed valid and ordered the Mayor to repeal the ordinance or put it up for a city vote. The Proposition 1 vote on November 3rd is the result of this eighteen month process.

Eighteen months ago, a poll showed the vast majority of our city opposes this ordinance. But in the end, it won't matter how many city residents oppose the ordinance—it will matter how many voters oppose the ordinance. The evangelical pastors of our city, including myself, are highly motivated to defeat Prop 1 as religious freedom is clearly a gospel issue, and the protection of our city's little girls is clearly a fundamental human right. For people in our city who are tired of the attack on religious liberty, this is a clear target to shoot at: "Vote no on Prop 1." Northeast Houston Baptist Church is mobilizing our members, utilizing stage announcements and social media. Our pastors participated in a press conference with over 100 other evangelical pastors, asking our city to "Vote no on Prop 1."  The Houston Area Pastor's Council is running television commercials and social media advertisements and yard signs are peppered in many yards.

Lord willing, voters will force our government to find a way to provide public services to our city without infringing on religious liberty or exposing many of our citizens to harm.

ERLC2018