Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.
Once again people in the ‘land of the free’ are trying to make it less free for a select few. The cartoon illustrated is representing a recent event in Houston Texas regarding the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). This act has recently been passed and is a great example of this current debate including the challenges of keeping Church and State separate. This ordinance gave anyone that recognises themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT) the right to be free from discrimination and inequality based on their identity. It also aimed to provide an environment where everyone is given the same amount of respect in public and on private property that caters to the public.
The State of Texas is seen as extremely religious and is in the so-called ‘bible belt’ of America. Therefore, this is an extremely liberal ordinance in a state where being LGBT is frowned heavily upon by the religious community, which makes up the majority of the population. Religious groups tried to attack the HERO act by focusing on a small section that gave transgendered men and women a decision over which sex toilet they could use in restaurants on private property. This lead to religious groups in Houston trying to get the amendment reversed based on this part of the equal rights ordinance. The religious groups tried to achieve this by using Ministers, who opposed the ordinance, to encourage their congregation, through sermons, to sign petitions against the act. This was an attempt to get the bill reversed with claims that having transgendered men using female bathrooms would endanger young children and women emotionally and psychically. This shows the extent to which the Church was influencing its congregation to vote on matters on the behalf of the Church and therefore these religious groups were quite content in crossing the wall of supposed separation.
Due to this the State wanted to know how these religious groups were influencing their congregations through sermons on how to sign the petitions. Therefore issuing subpoenas to five ministers to provide these sermons or be issued with a penalty. The religious groups took advantage of this and instantly hailed that the State was interfering with the Church (while ignoring the fact they interfered with the State) and tried to show it as the Mayor silencing religion. This is the reason for the illustration of the Church knocking down the wall but telling them to stay on their side of the wall. The plan to issue subpoenas ultimately backfired for the Government as it caused widespread protests and increased the Churches support of repealing the amendment. For the ordinance to be considered for an amendment it required 10% of the electoral vote to petition against which is 17,269. The Church originally commented to a media source that it had gathered 50,000 signatures which later turned out to be 19,177. Of these signatures put forward after a second revision only 15,249 signatures could be considered genuine due to false names, No voter registration or no addresses means that they did not have to consider amending the original HERO act. This was a great success for the equality of everyone In Houston and also shows that religious groups were quite content in lying with the aim to repress other Americans.
Before the constitution was drafted, Republicans wanted American citizens to vote equally about politics on their own ideas rather than the ideas the church is influencing its congregations to vote for (Hamburger, 2004). Due to this the idea of separating church and state was introduced. It may be common for some Churches to use admonition for those who do not follow the churches politics and dogmas (Hamburger, 2004), although this may only be the case with some ministers. This petition certainly shows how the Church is still willing to use scare tactics to influence people into voting. This includes saying the generalisation that transgendered people will harm women and children physically and emotionally just for using the same bathrooms, therefore repressing the whole LGBT community as a whole by repealing the amendment. As a result of this the US Government has a very fine line to tread in giving the church free expression, but finding the point where they have to limit its advocacy for Governmental laws and policies. This also includes understanding the difference between Churches persuading people to vote for decisions which is free expression or coercing them to (Audi, 2011). If the Church is successfully coercing many people to vote for different policies it results in religion deciding the laws and not the people, discrediting the apparent wall between church and state.
Although separation of Church and State is a common thought in America there is little about it in the constitution and it never actually mentions the words separation of Church and state as this is only used in Thomas Jefferson’s private letters. Consequently there have been many legal battles on the limits between the two. Furthermore if a Church enters a contract with the Government such as tax exemption this gives the Government the right to interfere with the Church on legal grounds and does not give them the freedom that they think they have.
Overall It is extremely hard for the American Government and the Church to keep separate and when an issue arises that the Church rejects there will always be uproar from religious groups, and the same reaction from the Government in reply. Religious groups should conform to the same restrictions that the Government adheres to when separating Church and State and until they do there will be many more instances of a retaliation between the two on issues that they are divided upon. Due to this there needs to be more clear-cut rules on the separation of Church and State to which each should have to follow or else there will be a continuation of events similar to Houston.