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.
With the current trend of social changes gradually gaining momentum in the United States, such as the same sex marriage legalization in a growing number of states, it would be safe to assume that all of America will eventually follow suit and incorporate these social changes into their state laws. However, there are still many states that refuse to roll over to these social changes, believing them to be an intrusion of the state into their religious affairs.
An on going stand off between members of the religious right and the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, about plans to subpoena sermons from local pastors who had opposed the ‘Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO)’, has led to many locals of Houston to argue that these proposed changes are examples of ‘political overreach’ and are an ‘attack on civil liberty’. Members of the church in Houston have long been opposed to HERO ever since its original inception back in May, where many felt that it was the Mayor’s way of enforcing her ‘gay agenda’.
It is important to note that Mayor Annise Parker is an openly gay woman and the leader of the fourth largest city in America. This alone puts her in a position of significant polarization between members of the Christian Conservatives and the Liberal left. The original purpose of HERO was to address discrimination of city employment, city contracting, housing, public accommodations and private employment, but it was heavily criticized by members of the republican party as being a ‘Sexual Predator Protection Act’ due to a particular change regarding all Houston businesses to permit the use of bathrooms, showers, locker rooms to all those dressed in female attire, regardless of their biological sex. They claimed that it would ‘subject women and girls to sexual predators who are allegedly confused by their gender identity’ as well as exploiting males who may be deceived by their appearance and mislead by transvestite women to conduct in homosexual activities. This kind of aggressive rhetoric was very important in generating enough support to create a solid opposition to the proposed HERO. By playing on the already heavily present fears about same sex relationships within the religious sector, and an apparent ‘gay agenda’ being pushed through by the Mayor, the hypersensitivity of the church becomes much more obvious. What was originally meant to be a progressive act, was warped into being an act that attacked ‘innocent Americans’ and subjected them to ‘sexual predators’.
The area in which the hypersensitivity of both the Church and State are at there most obvious is the issuing of the subpoenas, and the response from the Christian conservatives. It was discovered that Mayor Annise Parker chose to issue the subpoenas specifically at those churches and pastors that had opposed her introduction of HERO to discover whether or not they had provided instructions to their congregation about filling out the anti-HERO forms. This led to an incredible backlash nationwide, where Mayor Parker received huge criticism from Christian conservatives and Republican politicians. U.S Sen Ted Cruz had said that the subpoenas where an ‘attempt to silence the church’ but Mayor Parker insisted that ‘it was never the intention of the city of Houston to intrude on any matters of faith or to get between a pastor and their parishioners’ . The subpoenas were as a knee jerk reaction to the failure to push through the HERO act, displaying how the state is also susceptible of hypersensitivity, and not just the Church. In response, petitions were drafted, consisting of over 50,000 signatures in order to get a referendum in place to find out what the people of Houston thought about HERO, but was shot down by the state when it was declared that a vast number of signatures were disqualified as they were deemed to not keep to the cities legal standards. This enraged the Christian conservatives and a lawsuit was filed in opposition to the petition being disregarded. As a result of what had now become a media frenzy, Mayor Parker chose to narrow the subject matter on the subpoenas by removing mention of ‘sermons’ and declared it was purely to identify the instructions for petition process. This did little to quell the criticism however, and many felt that it was a case of too little too late, with Political professor at the University of Virginia Matthew Wilson declaring that ‘much of the damage is already done’.
There was some debate as to the true nature of why the Mayor chose to withdraw the subpoenas, with many assuming that it came from significant persuasion from the church, highlighted by a meeting with local and national pastors, where they had persuaded her to drop the subpoenas. Mayor Parker claimed that she did so because it was in the best interests of the city and not an admission of intrusion on religious liberties, but many will feel that she was forced to do so by the local and national pastors.
The entire situation revolved around Mayor Parker attempting to obtain information that would have been readily available to her. By originally mentioning the sermons, she had implied that there was information not publicly available to be obtained there. However, unless these were private services, there was no need to issue such a heavy handed subpoena, since they were part of a public service. Potentially she could have been sat in any of these sermons she targeted and had obtained the information she required herself. It could be argued that the church should have no problem with revealing the information they required due to how publicly available it was and ensuring that they had no influence in the outcome of the petition.
Due to the atmosphere surrounding the issue of Church Vs State that is currently enveloping the United States, it could be argued that both sides are displaying signs of hypersensitivity to any perceived infringement on their religious and civil liberties. My analysis of this is that both parties are guilty of displaying hypersensitivity to issues of state importance. Both sides show numerous accounts of hypocrisy when arguing over the direction that HERO was taking, and a result of the bickering between the two sides ends up in little to no progress being made and the American public being the ones that are left wanting.