Merging religion and state can take different forms. The most obvious is a church body or authority taking over the state (as in fundamentalist Iran). A less obvious example is when secular authorities reach into private church organizations to intimidate, sway or control.
The latter is now happening in America. And if one form of church-state integration is possible, so are others.
This is from the Huffington Post [10-15-14]:
Some Houston pastors are being forced to hand their sermons over to the city — and they’re not happy about the government reading over their shoulders.
Houston has asked five local conservative pastors to turn over sermons about a controversial new city ordinance that bans discrimination against LGBT people. The original subpoenas demanded to see any preaching related to homosexuality and gender identity.
Houston’s mayor, Annise Parker, has agreed that the initial demands were too broad.
“Neither the mayor nor City Attorney David Feldman were aware the subpoenas had been issued until yesterday,” the mayor’s spokesperson Janice Evans told the Huffington Post over email. “Both agree the original documents were overly broad. The city will move to narrow the scope during an upcoming court hearing.”
This means the city will still seek to collect any communication issued by these pastors that mention the petition against the hotly contested Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
The Alliance Defending Freedom, an advocacy group, said the move to scale back the subpoenas is just an attempt to “turn down the heat.” The ADF has filed a motion to shut down the subpoena request completely.
Greg Scott, VP of communications for ADF, told HuffPost that the city’s “intrusive demands are the same.”
[Scott said:] It appears that the city will still be demanding access to no less than 17 categories of private communications (including things like text messages) between private citizens who are not even parties to the suit and other private parties. This is a naked attempt to intimidate private citizens who did nothing but disagree with the government over a policy matter. Do any of us really want to live in an America in which we can be threatened, silenced, and even punished for disagreeing with the government?
This is more than a little disturbing.
Speaking personally, I can tell you that I would not likely agree with what most of these preachers have to say in their sermons, particularly about homosexuality and other social issues.
But I would never dream of supporting the kind of intimidation fostered by the city of Houston’s government.
The words of the Houston mayor are not reassuring. She might as well be saying, “Well, I know, this is a lot to ask in America. So I’ll speak in a calm tone without really saying anything. That way, I can still subpoena these records while making it sound like I’m backing down.”
I don’t care if this involves a legal dispute over a nondiscrimination law. No law — not even a nondiscrimination law — should permit the government to start interfering with the content of what people think, say or preach on private property.
What we have here is an unwillingness and inability to think in principle. Once upon a time, America was a place where “freedom of speech” meant the right to be left alone to think and speak on your own property — regardless of who you are. No matter what you said or thought, so long as it was said or thought on your own property and financed voluntarily,without coercion or fraud, it was none of the government’s business.
I find prejudicial discrimination against people for reasons of race, sexual orientation or anything else reprehensible. But — and this is the thing nobody wishes to admit — people are legally entitled to their prejudices (or should be). People have a political right to be morally or intellectually wrong, irrational, biased or anything else they want to be — so long as they don’t impose force on anyone.
Why is this so hard to understand? Or more precisely: Why is this so hard to accept?
I don’t believe that the mayor of Houston didn’t know these subpoenas were issued. A mayor of a large city doesn’t know that her own government is seizing the content of church sermons from preachers? What would happen if a religiously conservative mayor demanded that a gay or lesbian speaker handed over the contents of a speech, before giving it?
What’s the principle or concept uniting these two things? That’s the intellectual issue here.
In the minds of people today, principle does not exist. The gay and lesbian-supportive people I hear speaking basically seem to think, “So long as the government isn’t going after us — who cares? Those hateful preachers deserve the harassment. Let ’em have it.”
But if it’s valid for the government to harass in one case, why not in the other? How is it justice — or “nondiscriminatory” — to defend or tolerate the same action in one case, while condemning it in another?
The Obama administration, a few months back, proposed to send FCC government “inspectors” (translation: agents of harassment) into private media newsrooms to “clarify” (translation: censor) that no racist thoughts or beliefs were being espoused. People like me warned that if there was no hue and cry against these outrageous, blatantly unconstitutional proposals, more would follow, including on the local level.
The problem here is deeper than politics. It’s in the people. People have not been taught to think in principle. The deeper problem in America is that people no longer know how to think.
Part of thinking means grasping and acting on concepts. If everything boils down to “my gang or your gang,” or “My feelings versus your feelings,” as it seems to be doing in issues between gays and Christian conservatives — then I wonder what hope there is for our civilization.
How far would a Thomas Jefferson, a Thomas Paine or any other principled thinker get today? They’d surely be dismissed as ignorant, whacko racist “extremists.” The whole idea of America was, “It’s a republic, if you can keep it.” We can’t keep something without the necessary concepts to back it up. Concepts imply principles, and people lack those.
The Huffington Post also reports:
Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian who has been open about her sexuality, helped to push through this law in May. The ordinance bans discrimination against LGBT people in housing, in employment, and in public spaces.
Fascism is fascism, regardless of who’s implementing it. People like this lesbian mayor of Houston operate on the unstated premise, “It’s my turn now. It’s my turn to screw you guys over.” If government is to be used for such unprincipled and emotionally-driven actions, I don’t care who’s doing it. To the extent we keep permitting it, we are done as a free nation.
This is one of the problems with anti-discrimination laws. Such laws surrender the concept of private property to the government, at least in cases of real or alleged discrimination. The laws imply, “Your property is your own — unless you’re discriminating against someone for race, sexual orientation, or whatever.” Nobody seems willing to challenge this premise.
I have asked gay people I know, who own businesses, things like, “Would you like a law requiring you not to discriminate against straight people?” For example, allowing only gay people on gay cruises, or into gay guest houses. Shouldn’t that be against the law, too? Sometimes they see my point, but often they’ll say things like, “Well, that’s different.” How is it different? No answer, other than a sneer designed to intimidate but having no impact whatsoever on the truth.
There’s also deliberate confusion and distortion created by racist laws of the past. Such laws arose in the context of the “Jim Crow” South. In that place and time, government instituted laws (on the local level) forcing people to discriminate. Those laws had to be struck down, of course. Also, discrimination was permitted or required on publicly owned franchises, such as buses.
Once the government gets partially involved in restraining private property rights, it’s only a matter of time before it gets fully involved. Even though most Americans can or will no longer think in principle, there are people in power who are more than willing to do so. The Houston mayor is one of them. And we’re getting more and more such officials in power all the time. They’re riding roughshod over anyone who’s not a member of their particular gang. Equal individual (including property) rights for all, as a principle, is going by the wayside.
The mayor of Houston has stopped short of declaring herself a dictator. She mumbles a vague, meaningless response while intending to do nothing. The proper response by her should have been, “There’s no place for censorship and violation of private property. It’s wrong when it’s done against a gay or lesbian person; and it’s wrong when done against a member of any other group, for any other reason.”
She won’t say this, because it’s not what she thinks or believes. Nor do any of the officials increasingly gaining power. This is what the beginning of tyranny looks like.
Take a good hard look at freedom and liberty where they still exist. You might live to see them disappear. Don’t say that some of us didn’t warn you.
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