Category: Texas Legislature

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.

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.