Houston mayor Annise Parker has been sent between 500 and 1,000 Bibles at her home, part of a bizarre protest effort orchestrated by Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, and with enthusiastic support from Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. That quartet of geniuses claims that Parker, Houston's first openly gay mayor, is spearheading a sinister, very gay effort to shut down religious freedom, and that the only conceivable response is to pelt her with the Scripture. Failproof.
While Huckabee, Cruz, and the holy rollers who do whatever they say might insist this is a "freedom" issue, the truth is a little more complicated. In May of this year, Houston's city council passed an equal rights ordinance, commonly referred to as HERO, designed to tighten the city's anti-discrimination laws. A capsule summary from the Houston Chronicle:
The measure bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.
The ordinance applies to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting. Religious institutions would be exempt. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.
But opponents of HERO, led by five local conservative pastors, argued that the new ordinance impinged on their rights. They also voiced their apparently very dire fear that the law's whole intent was to allow men in drag to use women's restrooms. (That's how they interpreted the part of the bill that would ban discrimination against transgender people at city facilities.) According to the Chron, they even dubbed HERO "the Sexual Predator Protection Act."
With the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a sort of fundamentalist Christian answer to the ACLU, the opponents of HERO tried to collect enough signatures to put a measure to repeal the law on the ballot in the November elections. But the city attorney ruled that many of the signatures were invalid and so the HERO opponents sued. As part of their response to the lawsuit, the city subpoenaed sermons and speeches given by the five pastors, to try to determine whether they'd illegally given instructions on how to fill out anti-HERO ballots from the pulpit. (As tax-exempt institutions, churches can't be in the business of doing things like telling people how to vote, although they regularly skirt that line).
That subpoena went out on October 14. By October 17, Parker had instructed city attorneys to narrow the request, removing any mention of the word "sermons." She acknowledged that the subpoena was overly broad and might have given her opponents fuel to argue that she was trying to tamp down on religious expression.
"We don't need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston," she told the Chron, "And 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. We don't want their sermons, we want the instructions on the petition process. That's always what we wanted and, again, they knew that's what we wanted because that's the subject of the lawsuit." (Update: On Tuesday, October 29, shortly after this post was published, Parker announced that she had instructed the city to drop the subpoena altogether, according to KPRC.)
So why is Parker getting flooded with Bibles now? Because, basically, Mike Huckabee took notice of the controversy on October 19, asking every viewer of his show to send Parker a Bible. Ted Cruz, who previously led a rally with the five anti-HERO pastors, was also a fan of that idea, calling the subpoenas a "grotesque abuse of power." Glenn Beck jumped in with both feet on October 20, calling the subpoenas and HERO in general "more dangerous to the republic of Texas than Ebola." He added, with his usual taste for restraint, "This is the most dangerous thing I've seen. And we are becoming openly hostile to God. It doesn't end well when a nation like ours does that."
So that's why, some 12 days after the subpoena was reworded, Mayor Parker is getting buttloads of Bibles. She told local news station KPRC she plans to donate them to area churches, adding, "I think it was a very productive way for folks who disagreed with our legal strategy to express that disagreement and I'm happy to share the Bibles with those who may want them."
Shade level: expert.
Image via Mayor Annise Parker/AP