Category: Politics

Gov. Abbott signs SB 24, church/state controversy reignited

Governor Greg AbbottFormer Houston Mayor Annise Parker drew national outrage in 2014 when attorneys for the city of Houston subpoenaed sermon notes and audio from pastors who had organized a petition to force the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) to a public referendum. Pastors who organized the petition said the HERO ordinance violated religious freedoms.

The pastors had collected the signatures needed, but several thousand were rejected when it was discovered that one of the pastors who collected the signatures was not a registered voter. With the signatures disqualified, the petition failed, and HERO was set to be enacted.

That’s when the pastors sued, and during the discovery phase of the suit, lawyers representing the city subpoenaed the pastors’ sermon notes to see if those pastors had violated the law by discussing, promoting, or giving instructions regarding the petition during worship services.

The resulting fallout had pastors, pundits and politicos criticizing the city of Houston to the point that Mayor Parker ordered the city’s attorneys to withdraw the subpoena. The pastors scored a victory, which led to a legal victory, which led to an electoral victory when Houston voters overwhelmingly rejected HERO.

Sunday, at Grace Community Church in The Woodlands, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took a victory lap as the governor held a bill signing ceremony for SB 24 during worship services. SB 24, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), prohibits local and state government entities from subpoenaing sermon notes, audio or video from pastors, and further prohibits those pastors from being forced to testify about their sermons.

The bill, seen as a response to Houston’s 2014 subpoena, went into effect immediately, however, the way the governor signed the bill reignited the debate over the separation of church and state.

Current law prohibits churches from influencing political elections, or the passing of legislation. While churches can weigh in on issues (such as abortion or same-sex marriage), they cannot lobby in favor of legislation on those issues, nor can they endorse candidates who support their views on the issues.

While President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive order instructing the IRS to stop enforcing the law that bans church involvement in the political process, critics note that the executive order can just as easily be reversed in the next Presidential administration, exposing politically active churches to prosecution, or loss of their tax-exempt status.

The separation of church and state is one of the pillars that upholds the freedom of the American republic. Historically, whenever the church takes control of the government, persecution against non-adherents follows. Whenever the government takes control of the church, blasphemy and heresy follow. Both situations become ripe with corruption.

That’s why Rev. John Leland, a Baptist pastor who preached in Virginia and Massachusetts, strongly advocated for the separation of church and state, supported James Madison, and was instrumental in promoting the passage of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In promoting the separation of church and state, Leland wrote:

Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.

That was the goal of the separation of church and state. Churches would not run the government. Government would not run the churches. Man would be free to serve God in a way that satisfied his conscience.

Churches should participate in the market place of ideas. When government seeks to regulate religious speech, it seeks to take control over the church. However, if churches become “dark money” organizations for political parties, they have not only violated the separation of church and state, they have also deviated from their God-given mission.

Furthermore, any law that forces a man to violate his religious conscience is a law that violates the very essence of man, and the three founding principles of our nation. So, with SB 24 in place, and Gov. Abbott’s and Lt. Gov. Patrick’s victory lap behind us, let us press onward to a world where man is free to believe, churches are free to preach, and where government governs well, and as little as possible.

How the Johnson Amendment is used to target churches

LBJ

Any pastor will tell you that unless you put the scriptures into practice, they will not change your life. As a result, pastors are responsible not only for teaching the text and meaning of scripture, but also for teaching their congregations how to apply those scriptures to life.

However, when scripture applies to the legislative process, or a political election, the pastor must step out of the pulpit before applying scripture to the situation. Otherwise, the church can lose its tax-exempt status under the Johnson Amendment.

To be clear, pastors can discuss abortion, homosexuality, benevolence and relief for the poor, drug abuse, sexual immorality and the definition of marriage from the pulpit. It’s when those issues become tied to legislation, or a political campaign that the Johnson Amendment comes into play.

Such was the case in Houston during the fall of 2014. Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, adding sexual orientation to the list of things for which one could not be discriminated against. While this sounds like common decency on the surface, many felt that the ordinance infringed on the religious freedoms of Christian business owners, contractors, and political hopefuls. Then, there was the bathroom issue.

Pastors who preached against homosexuality could not reference the proposed ordinance, or discuss petitions to call for a public referendum on the ordinance, from the pulpit. To engage the ordinance, those pastors would have to work on their own time, apart from the churches. Such is common, and such took place in the aftermath of the passage of HERO.

The petition to call for a referendum failed, and Houston area pastors filed a lawsuit claiming that many signatures on the petition were unlawfully disqualified. During the discovery phase of that suit, attorneys for the city subpoena’ed the sermons of some of the pastors who helped promote the petition.

Time magazine reported that lawyers for the city wanted to search the sermon notes to see if any of the pastors had discussed the petition, or instructed their parishioners on how to participate in the petition during church services.

Immediately, there was an outcry from the Christian community in Houston, and Mayor Parker ordered the lawyers to drop the subpoenas for the sermon notes, telling the Texas Tribune that she had not approved those subpoenas prior to them being sent out.

The legal and political process played out, resulting in the referendum on HERO being put to the voters. It ultimately failed.

This post is not to reopen the debate on HERO, bathrooms or same-sex marriage. This post is to examine how the Johnson Amendment was used, though not cited, as a legal tool to overcome the political activities of Christian pastors.

Under the Johnson Amendment, churches are not allowed to engage in activity that would influence an election, or legislation. Churches cannot lobby the legislature, their local councils, and cannot endorse candidates. Churches cannot contribute to political candidates or political action committees. Doing so would cost them their tax-exempt status, and subject them to federal regulation.

There are good reasons for the Johnson Amendment, as no one wants to see churches become stealth super-PACs, as Roll Call fears. On the other hand, the premise of the Johnson Amendment was the basis for the City of Houston’s subpoenas for Sunday sermons. They wanted to see if any pastor had crossed the line. Had that been established, the city could have used the violation of the Johnson Amendment to put down the lawsuit, thus saving HERO. And that’s where the problem lies.

If the government has the right to examine Biblical teaching, and then ban or penalize it for becoming “too political,” then what’s next? The separation of Church and State would eventually be weathered down, and government would control religion. That has resulted in disaster every single time it has happened throughout history.

Churches are tax-exempt to preserve the separation of church and state by preventing government regulation through tax incentives or penalties. If government wants to ban financial contributions from churches to political causes to keep that separation in tact, fine.

However, the government should never have any say in what is taught from the pulpit, or the Sunday School rooms. Furthermore, churches should be able to advocate for policies that parallel their mission. Stand up, speak up, but don’t pay up.

For those reasons, President Donald Trump’s executive order for the IRS to roll back enforcement of the Johnson Amendment is a good thing, even if it doesn’t make any significant changes to the way things are.

The Texas Legislature passes the Sanctuary Cities Bill

Texas_State_Capitol_Summer_2005 Public DomainThe Department of Homeland Security detained 44 illegal immigrants before transferring them to the Travis County Jail for the disposition of criminal charges, according to a report from the Washington Examiner. Once in the Travis County Jail, those inmates were released under Travis County’s “sanctuary cities” policy, a policy where the sheriff’s office denies ICE detainer requests for certain illegal immigrants, thus releasing them back into the public.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely makes requests to local sheriff’s and police departments to detain illegal immigrants until ICE can follow through on deportation proceedings. Often, local jurisdictions deny these requests, and release those immigrants for a variety of reasons. Some, to save on the cost of housing illegal immigrants in jail until ICE arrives, which can sometimes be weeks. Others, to make a political statement and to pander to liberals and immigrant communities.

The case of Travis County, Tex., home to Austin, has been at the center of this controversy as Sheriff Sally Hernandez publicly stated that she will deny ICE detainer requests, unless the suspected illegal immigrant has been charged with capital murder, first degree murder, aggravated sexual assault or human smuggling.

Travis County’s sanctuary city policy has holes, according to a report from Fox 7 in Austin. Fox 7 reports that the Travis County Sheriff’s Office denied ICE detainer requests for illegal immigrants charged with injury to a child, sexual assault, and repeated sexual assault of a child, thus releasing them on bail.

The scandalous release of criminal immigrants in Travis County led to a heated debate on sanctuary cities policies, which culminated in the passage of Senate Bill 4, which makes sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders subject to a Class A misdemeanor if they do not honor requests from federal immigration authorities. The Texas Tribune also reports that entities that adopt sanctuary city policies can be fined $1,000 for a first offense, and as much as $25,500 for repeat offenses.

The bill also includes a provision that allows law enforcement officers to inquire about a suspect’s immigration status. That part of the bill, known as the “show me your papers” amendment, limits such questions to detainment, and does not allow police to stop residents for the purpose of checking their immigration status.

Opponents of the bill argue that it would erode public trust in law enforcement, as immigrant communities would be less inclined to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement for fear of being detained or deported. Opponents of the bill also cite compassion as a reason for their opposition, saying that America should be the land of opportunity.

While compassion and public trust are important, opponents of the bill have yet to justify the release of criminal immigrants, specifically the ones released by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. While releasing those individuals may have been compassionate to them, it certainly did not show much compassion to their victims.

All residents of Texas deserve to live in a safe society, where criminals are held accountable, and offenders are removed from their victims. This cannot happen if those offenders are being released in the name of social justice.

Castro, Cruz, and Texas Red vs. Blue

In the debut episode of the “Leland Acker Show” podcast, I examine Joaquin Castro’s decision to stay in the House and not challenge Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, and what that means for Texas Democrats.

I also discuss what single event could turn Texas blue, the 10 reasons millennials are leaving Christianity, and Jeb Bush’s prospects in owning the Miami Marlins. Check it out, then tell me what you think.

Warren leads Democrats into 2020 Presidential Primary

Elizabeth_Warren,_official_portrait,_114th_CongressWhile much of the Democratic Party is publicly blaming Russians, racism and misogyny for President Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral victory, one prominent Democrat has conducted a post-election autopsy, found the cause of death, and is publicly proclaiming why Democrats got shellacked in the 2016 general election.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sen. Elizabeth Warren blamed former President Barack Obama and several Democrats for being out of touch with mainstream American voters. Her comments were quoted in The Hill.

Warren’s criticisms were less about the Democratic Party’s obsession with social justice warriors and more about public ties the party is developing with Wall Street. Recently, former President Obama agreed to a speaking engagement with a Wall Street firm for $400,000. Hillary Clinton was notorious for giving $200,000 speeches. These ties to Wall Street were not lost on Democratic runner-up Sen. Bernie Sanders, who routinely criticized Clinton’s ties to powerful investment firms.

“The lived experiences of most Americans is that they are being left behind in this economy,” Warren said. “Worse than being left behind, they’re getting kicked in the teeth.”

For Americans living between the two coasts, the economy has left them in the dust. Manufacturing jobs, while back on the increase, are no longer as plentiful as they once were. Factory workers in the Fayetteville, Ark., area saw many of their jobs outsourced to overseas production facilities. Air conditioner manufacturing workers in Jacksonville, Tex., saw their jobs head south of the border. Michigan auto workers have been put through a pressure cooker over the past eight years.

Meanwhile, pundits on the East and West Coasts laughed off the suffering of Middle America by saying that “manufacturing is only a small part of the American economy.” While, percentage-wise, that might be true, for the manufacturing worker, manufacturing is the American economy.

When manufacturing jobs go overseas, the 200 workers at the plant who earned an average of $15 per hour suddenly find themselves competing for 10 positions offered by a new manufacturer moving to the area. Or worse, find themselves competing for an $8/hour position at a quick lube place. Income obliterated, home on the market, boat sold, and debt skyrocketing, these workers see politicians and pundits on TV say, “These jobs aren’t coming back.”

Of course Middle America is hopeless. Of course, they’re angry. And this is what propelled President Donald Trump to victory in the 2016 election. He promised to enact policies to bring manufacturing jobs back to America, and so far, it looks like he will deliver on the promise. He struck a deal to expand Chrysler’s manufacturing operations in America, and a jobs report published in Time magazine in March showed manufacturing gains.

Progress and promises like that are what will keep President Trump popular with Middle America, and could win him reelection in 2020. Despite what the polls say, Trump is still very popular in rust belt and red states, and Sen. Warren sees that.

By criticizing her party’s tone-deafness to the plight of the American people, Warren is going on record as saying she understands where most Americans are coming from, and what they want: good paying jobs that don’t require a 7-year, $180,000 degree to obtain, a decent cost of living where they can enjoy themselves but still enjoy the benefit of a rising home value, and a social safety net to help them in major healthcare crises, or to care for an elderly parent. That’s not to say her policies will actually work, but that is how she is selling them.

If she continues this rhetoric, and follows this platform, she’ll be the Democratic front-runner should she decide to run in 2020. If President Trump falters, or declines to run again, she’s a real threat to take the White House.

Congress has been selling its votes to the highest bidding corporations for years. What the politicians are beginning to learn is that no price tag can pay for a lost election, and if the interests of the American people are not being served, then lost elections are on the horizon. Let’s hope we see some real policy changes that open up freedom and opportunity for those of us in Middle America.