Houston Pastor Says Religious Freedom Means the Right to Discriminate Against Gays, Jews

This, folks, is a case of a religious-righter being forced to follow her absurd argument to its unavoidable conclusion.

Kudos to Houston City Council Member Ellen Cohen for making clear what opponents of the proposed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (ERO) are really saying when they argue for the religious freedom to discriminate against LGBT people. The ERO would bar discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, sex, military status and a number of other protected characteristics. Houston is the last major city in Texas without such a comprehensive civil rights ordinance.

Religious-right activists have focused almost exclusively on the ordinance’s protections for LGBT people. They argue that business owners and others have the right, because of their religious beliefs, to discriminate against someone who is gay or transgender. (Many mainstream faith leaders, we should note, have strongly supported passage of the measure.)

So check out the short exchange in the video clip above between Cohen and Becky Riggle, a pastor at Houston’s Grace Community Church. Riggle was testifying against the ordinance, arguing that it violates the religious freedom of business owners and others in Houston who think LGBT people are sinful. If a business owner has the right to refuse service to LGBT people because the owner’s religious beliefs are offended, Cohen asks, then should business owners also be able to refuse service to other people — like, say, Jews — for the same reason?

Riggle, clearly realizing she’s trapped by her own argument, proceeds to trip all over her tongue in trying to respond. She ultimately suggests that yes, religious freedom would allow her to discriminate against Jews. But she insists “that’s not the issue” in the case of the Houston ERO.

Actually, that’s exactly what this is about — whether someone’s religious beliefs give them a free pass to discriminate against anyone they choose in civil society.

Riggle’s husband and fellow Grace pastor, Steve Riggle, has been one of the most strident anti-gay voices in Houston. He was a prominent organizer and speaker, for example, at this week’s “rally” against the proposed Houston ERO. In the past he has called on Mayor Annise Parker to resign because she supports marriage equality for LGBT people, and he has objected to the mayor referring to her wife as Houston’s First Lady.

Now Council Member Cohen has skillfully exposed what the Riggles and other religious-right opponents of the Houston ERO are really saying, whether they want to admit it or not. They want to use their religious beliefs as a weapon to divide and stigmatize, not unite and love; to self-righteously sit in judgment over those who don’t share their beliefs; and to demand that government recognize their “right” to ignore laws everyone else must obey. Today they seek to persecute LGBT people. Tomorrow they will target someone else.

(H/T Faith in Public Life)

18 thoughts on “Houston Pastor Says Religious Freedom Means the Right to Discriminate Against Gays, Jews

  1. Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h. Now we get down to the brass tacks, don’t we? She is saying, in effect, my beliefs are the only true religious beliefs. Therefore, I and the other people who believe exactly as I do DESERVE to be able to sit in judgement on everyone else’s religious beliefs—and not only that—execute judgement upon them because of their sins and other shortcomings.

    For example, if you are a United Methodist and you baptize by sprinkling, then they want the right to refuse to bring the iced tea and steak to your table at their restaurant because they believe in full dunk baptism. Could the position of these totalitarians—these scribes and pharisees of Houston—be any plainer? I don’t think so!!!!!!!!!

    Here is the deal with these “fundie types.” Jesus says to “judge not that ye be not judged.” Biblical judgement is a bound double helix. It is not just forming an opinion about guilt but also bound with it is taking upon one’s own self the act of executing a punishment on a person these people have an opinion against. The two go hand in hand.

    Whenever a person like me trots out that famous Bible verse about judgement, their response is a snidely, “I just love it when people who know nothing about the Bible quote the Bible to me.” Then they proceed on to say, “If you read that next verse, you’ll see that it says, “Instead, judge righteous judgement.” Then they say, “WELL, THAT’S WHAT WE DO.” And to polish it off, they will say, “I bet you don’t know about the Bible verse that says we will one day judge angels.”

    Well, actually I do. The point Jesus is making here is that all human beings are incapable of making righteous judgements like God does because they are incapable of seeing that judged person’s past life, what is in their heart, what a bad time they had in a dysfunctional home, and 1,000 other things that God can see and take into account—but no human being can. When Jesus says, “Instead, judge righteous judgement, what he is really doing is underlining in caps and bold the point that humans cannot do that—sarcasm—an irony—an explication of the impossible to be understood as such. And then what happens in the Bible? Those who should be the most righteous judges on Earth because of their high religious positions mistakenly condemn Jesus to death and make sure it happens on the cross, which proves the point Jesus made in spades. There’s that double helix bind again. Forming a negative judgement about a person and at the same time taking action against that person as punishment or vengeance.

    The things the Pastor Haters of Houston want to do to LGBT people may be Old Testament Biblical—but they are not Christian by a long shot.

    Here is what I say. If you are not a Christian fundamentalist or a right wing nutjob evangelical—and you allow these people to do this to LGBT people—you and your family will be in danger next down the road. Numerous Christian fundamentalists are on record with the belief that all churches except theirs are apostate and that the people who attend them are enemies of God and tools of Satan. That means you Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Moderate Baptist, Northern Baptist, and 1oo other followers of Christ. Do you seriously think that these “fundie” totalitarians would not come after your church and board it up if they had the legal power to do so? In my honest opinion, this attempt to legally persecute LGBT people in Houston is just the tip of the iceberg.


  2. The video clip is priceless. This is an example of argumentum ad absurdum, following an argument to its logical absurd conclusion, thus demonstrating its non-validity. At the end, Becky Riggle finally has to say that her argument permits a religious person the right to deny service to anyone for any personal religious reason, but “that is not the issue here.” The issue here is denying service to LGBT people only. So it’s really not a religious freedom issue at all. Ergo, not constitutionality, but bigotry.

  3. First of all if they were true to their convictions she would not be apastor. That is a no-no in the Bible.

    1. And the old black man who stood up in back of the church and said, “You mean—fur as you knows uv.”

      That is your reading of the Bible, but many in the Christian community, taking the Bible as a whole rather than cherry-picked verses, read it very differently. I have no trouble with women being pastors. In fact, many of the ones I have seen do the job a whole lot better than the men because “macho” does not get in the way of a free flow of genuine, Christ-like love.

      But that is neither here nor there—people are going to disagree on just about any subject one brings up—even the color of your sneakers.

      1. The NT is self-contradictory there. On the one hand women are banned from ‘teaching’ in church, on the other there are recommendations for the proper clothing of women doing exactly that. Given that the authorship of the letter containing the former is far more in dispute than of the one containing the latter, I would keep with the latter anyway, if I cared at all about internal disputes baout procedures in the early church. St.Hieronymous was concerned enough about women having any say in the church that he personally changed the wording in his Latin translation of the Bible in several places to counter that ‘threat’. So, nothing new there.

  4. I can here the pitiful whines from the Peanut Gallery now:

    “Weez ones is not being allowed the free exercise of our religion under the First Amendment ’cause our faith demands that weezuns separates oursevs from sinners.”

    1) You can separate yourselves all you want—good riddance and glad to have you gone from my sight for all I care. However, your right to separation ENDS where it begins to violate the rights of other people—in this case LGBT people who need the basics of life just like everyone else.

    2) I would like to know how in the hell all of you plan to separate from your individual selves? Ever last one of you is a sinner—no better than the LGBT people or any other sinner—so your faith demands that you separate from yourself. How do you plan to do that, and what basic human right of your own do you plan to take away from yourself in order to achieve this separation?

    Jesus demands an answer and so do I.

    1. Hi Charles,

      A couple things to your post. I am a Christian Minister. Nowhere but nowhere in the Bible do Christians ever have the right to malign others. God has cracked into h
      His own people for that kind of foolishness.

      Christ would call a sin a sin but would show mercy and forgiveness to all who would ask. Just ask the woman at the well.

      The homosexual argument is a difficult one at best because of its treatment in the Bible. 8
      places mention it and all 8 are very negative. From Jude calling it strange flesh to Paul calling it a sin to Moses saying it is detestable. As a minister I can’t come off that position but I can encourage Christians to remember that we sinners also and only the Grace of God saves us.
      To a Biblicist sexual sins are not worse than any other sins but the Bible does say plainly that the consequences for those kinds of sins are unique. Also, in the case of homosexuality the Bible would not only call it a sin but also a judicial act of God whereby he turns them over to that lifestyle men and women exchanging the natural use of the body with that that is unnatural. It also talks about a delusion that God gives man to keep him pursing lawlessness.
      I have counseled and listened to several who have talked to me about their homosexuality. I don’t condemn them, and since they talked to me as a pastor they have confidentiality rights. People in my congregation have never been told nor do I bring it up in church business meetings.
      I have had to tell them what they are up against. They don’t feel threatened. I eat lunch with some and my family doesn’t even know the dynamics.
      I really don’t understand what the Houstonian Pastor is trying to do but it sounds to me like it is flawed from the standpoint of the Bible. Not every one of us believes that way so please don’t lump us.
      If you have any questions I would be happy to answer them but I may not have all the answers.

      1. Right Reverend. In this particular case in Houston, I am not really sure that the question of whether homosexuality is or is not a sin is really at issue.

        The people who are against this ordinance say that Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong have a right to deny commercial services to homosexuals as a free expression of their religious convictions.

        Selling or not selling a wedding cake may be one thing, but the judicial question is how far can this go and where does it end up. The real danger is that it ends where homosexuals are denied food when they need it, water when they need it, medical care when they need it, a job when they need it, and so on—basically denial of the basics a person needs to survive.

        You and I would probably disagree about the complex meanings in the Book of Revelations. As you are aware, the universal Christian community around the world has a wide range of views on the meanings in that book. For those who view it literally, one of the most insidious events is receiving the “mark of the beast” on one’s forehead or right hand.” Anyone without this mark may neither sell goods and services nor buy them. Those in the cities who do not have the mark will starve to death—plain and simple. Even the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical movements (of which I as a United Methodist am not a part) have historically recoiled in horror at the prospect of this situation and labeled this sort of behavior as inherently Satanic. This is why they went into a hysteria over ID chips inserted under the skins of pets—seeing it as the beginning of the beast and his mark.

        It appears to me that the people against the ordinance in Houston feel that they need a “tool” very much like the “mark of the beast” to do the same thing to homosexuals—and fending off the ordinance is their key to getting such a tool, maintaining such a tool, and putting it into action to starve, thirst, and burn homosexuals out of existence in Houston. Apart from the obvious wrong in that, it also troubles me that they would recoil from such a tool and label it as Satanic while reading Revelations—but then turn right around and clutch the same Satanic tool tight to their bosoms like their first born child when they need it to wreak vengeance on their enemies. As a Christian, I have a real problem with that sort of vicious irony—and yeah—the H-word too.

        As a Christian, even if homosexuality is the most abominable sin ever committed, I am not going to personally deny a piece of bread, a piece of meat, or a cup of water to my brother or sister who is gay. I am not going to deny him or her a job that is necessary to buy food, water, heat, cool, and shelter. I am not going to cut off his electricity, and I am not going to go out of my way to make his or her life miserable in the marketplace or elsewhere. I am not going to do this because I would not want anyone to treat me that way, and regardless of their sins, these gay people are my neighbors. That being the case, I cannot allow anyone else to treat them that way either. If I did, I would be their accomplice—and in so doing violate my own conscience and the explicit words of Jesus on such matters.

        1. Hey Charles,

          I agree with you wholeheartedly. My problem with the Houston pastor is if she is so bent on that then what does she do when the Bible and Jesus Christ in particular blasts people for self-righteousness. Or the Apostle Paul when he mentions other sins like murder or some such thing. To me God made people agents of will and as such it is their right to do what they want because only they will answer to God for themselves. I think of Jesus telling Peter to quit worrying about what others do, you do what I tell you. Or Paul telling people not to be busy bodies and sticking your nose into others people’s business.
          Overall Charles you and I would get along great because I have respect for your views.

    2. I can only speak personally, but say if I were renting out a room in my house I would be very discriminatory about who I rent a room to.

      Similarly with other things, I reserve right to not have a business relationship with whoever I want for whatever reason I want.

      I won’t deal with gay men, period. It takes every inch of fortitude I have to remain in the same room with one if I am aware of it. God forbid one flirt with me, because my response would be a reflexive ultra violent assault. It is a personal emotional problem I have, but it is what it is and no law will change it.

      Not everyone is a religious whacko, some of us are whakos for a wide variety of different reasons.

      Now as far as government goes, any government should never discriminate in anything for anyone. As long as marriage is a legal institution, gays should be able to marry and have any other rights anyone else has under the law with public housing, assistance and any other government connected thing, but when it comes to personal dealings like renting my home, a room in my home or even other smaller issues, I reserve right to refuse to do business with whoever I choose for whatever reason I choose..

  5. Any time someone says “the Bible says” you should mentally translate that into “Harry Potter says” and then it will make perfect sense.

    Becky Riggle got quite a giggle (and so did I) by putting forth an argument she read in a newspaper (the cake baker discrimination case), but not understanding the argument she put forth. It’s a classic example of the effect of the Bible turning one’s brain into cottage cheese that Riggle could not follow her own logic excusing discrimination because of so-called religious beliefs.

    Riggle’s brain dead confusion was exactly the same as the nut job Arizona lawmaker who got all tangled up in the same logic trap when he expressed the opinion that a business could discriminate on religious principles, but when pressed how that would play to someone who was Jewish or black, and not gay, he could only stumble with, “Well, I don’t know anybody who would do that, I mean, I wouldn’t.” A lawmaker with no clue about the law, and a pastor with no clue.

  6. I would like to know just how committed these radicals are. Let’s take Hobby Lobby. The owner doesn’t want to hire anyone from the LGBT. Is he so committed to this belief that he is willing to put his mouth is? Will he have only American made products by non LGBT workers? Is he ready to take a financial hit because non LGBT products will be more expenses, thus passing the costs to the public? Is he only willing to do business with all types of Christians or just the evangist one? There are plenty more question, but my primary inquiry is how much money is he willing to lose because his religion?

  7. If I am a Jewish business owner , then don’t I have the right to refuse service to Becky Riggle? She calls herself a pastor when she is not . If she believes in the bible then she should read the part that says The Lord says he will curse those who curse us , and bless those who bless us . Our ancestor was king David who could have kicked her easily out of his business for attacking Israel . And I don’t think shed ever be able to mess with Israel .