BJC executive director joins diverse group of Baptists in letter to Houston mayor
October 16, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Cherilyn Crowe / ccrowe@BJConline.org / 202-544-4226 / cell: 202-603-1663
October 19 update: Mayor amends controversial subpoenas
WASHINGTON – Baptists from across the theological spectrum are working together to stand against subpoenas seeking sermons from five clergy members in Houston.
Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, joined a diverse group of Baptists in sending a letter to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, reiterating the critical importance of protecting religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
The letter notes that, while the signatories do not agree on everything, the principles of religious liberty are integral parts of Baptist heritage. “Our forebears—some of whom were imprisoned—petitioned for a First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty, for everyone, because we believe as Baptists that God alone is Lord of the conscience,” according to the letter.
In addition to the Baptist Joint Committee, the letter is signed by leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The letter comes after the mayor’s office subpoenaed five pastors and religious leaders to submit “all speeches, presentations, or sermons” that were “prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by” them or in their possession which relate to the city’s equal rights ordinance, the mayor, homosexuality or gender identity. The subpoenas are part of a lawsuit the city is fighting.
After an outcry, the mayor and the city attorney agreed the subpoena language was “overly broad.” The mayor said the city will “narrow the scope during an upcoming court hearing.”
The letter asks the mayor and the city of Houston to acknowledge the misguided nature of issuing the subpoenas “in order to ensure that such will not happen again.”
“The government has no right to invade the autonomy of churches and the sanctity of the pulpit in this way,” Walker said.
The city of Houston is fighting a lawsuit brought by a group of critics of the city’s equal rights ordinance. Approved by the city council in May, the ordinance includes provisions that ban discrimination of LGBT individuals in many business and employment arenas. It does exempt religious institutions. Critics gathered signatures for a ballot referendum to repeal the ordinance. After initially saying there were enough signatures, the city declared that the process used did not meet all requirements, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The letter is available on the Baptist Joint Committee’s website.
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is a 78-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization that works to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, bringing a uniquely Baptist witness to the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.