By / May 13

WASHINGTON, D.C, May 12, 2016—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, responded to a directive the Obama Administration issued today telling public school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.

“This decree from the Obama Administration is a stunning misuse of power,” Moore commented. “Children are not pawns of the state, to experiment with on behalf of the latest fashionable ‘right side of history’ cause. Christians must continue to insist that the worldview of the Sexual Revolution harms men and women, and advocate for the inherent dignity of all."

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

By / Nov 5

On Tuesday residents of Houston, Texas, America’s fourth most populous city, voted by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent, to repeal the city's Equal Rights Ordinance. Here is what you should know about the controversial law.

What was Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance?

Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, better known as HERO, was an ordinance passed by the city council in May. The law would have made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on 15 different “protected characteristics,” including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Why was HERO so controversial?

The main concern many citizens had with the ordinance was with it’s definition of gender identity and how it would apply to “public accommodations.” The text of the ordinance defined gender identity as follows:

Gender Identity means an individual’s innate identification, appearance, expression or behavior as either male or female, although the same may not correspond to the individual’s body or gender as assigned at birth.

This wording, combined with the document’s definition of public accommodation, would have allowed men and women who “identify” with the opposite gender to use public bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex.

Why was the bill dubbed the “bathroom ordinance”?

Although the bill didn’t specially mention public bathrooms, the wording of the law made it clear that transgender people would be able to use the bathrooms of the opposite sex.

As Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said after the vote,

The voters clearly understand that this proposition was never about equality – that is already the law. It was about allowing men to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms — defying common sense and common decency.

How did the ordinance come up for a referendum vote?

After the referendum was rejected by the city, says Houston pastor Nathan Lino, 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.”

What did the ordinance have to do with the “Stand with Houston pastors” movement?

After the city council passed the ordinance in May, many local residents, including some pastors in the area, opposed the law and supported a citizen initiative to have the council either repeal the bill or place it on the ballot for voters to decide.

Although the initiative was certified by the City Secretary, the mayor and city attorney threw out the petition claiming it was invalid. This sparked a lawsuit by the initiative supporters, Woodfill v. Parker. The city’s attorneys subpoenaed a number of area pastors, demanding to see what they preach from the pulpit and to examine their communications with their church members and others concerning the city council’s actions. Some of the pastors who received the subpoena were not even involved in the initiative.

The subpoena covered almost every type of communication related to HERO, the mayor, or the petition initiative. The most controversial wording in the subpoena was this clause:

All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.

Five pastors refused to comply and were supported by a social media campaign called “Stand with Houston pastors.”

Why did the pastors have a problem with providing their sermons?

A case could be made that if the sermons were construed as electioneering (persuading voters as part of political campaign) that such communications could be relevant to the lawsuit. But the subpoena also requested all sermons about homosexuality and gender identity. This was a clear-cut case of overreach and has been construed as attempting to suppress the free speech rights of the pastors.

As legal scholar Eugene Volokh said,

At the very least, the subpoena seems vastly overbroad. And the fact that it seeks the contents of religious speeches does counsel in favor of making the subpoena as narrow as possible (which would likewise be the case if it sought the contents of political speeches). I’m not sure what sort of legally relevant information might be contained in the subpoenaed sermons. But the subpoena ought to be narrowed to that legally relevant information, not to all things about homosexuality, gender identity, the mayor, or even the petition or the ordinance.

Why did the pastors have a problem with providing their sermons?

Sermons are public utterances, so most pastors would have few qualms with giving a copy to anyone who asked — even a government official. The concern was with the idea that a city government has the authority to scrutinize a sermon to determine whether it fits within the limits of what government officials deem to be politically acceptable.

Another concern was with the use of government power to intimidate pastors into not speaking out on issues such as homosexuality. As the Alliance Defense Fund notes in a legal motion to quash the subpoenas,

It appears they were designed to punish the Nonparty Pastors for being part of the coalition that invoked the City Charter’s referendum provision, and discourage them and other citizens from ever doing so again. The message is clear: oppose the decisions of city government, and drown in unwarranted, burdensome discovery requests.

By / Nov 2

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.