Religious-righters are twisting and redefining “religious liberty” so much that the term itself is in danger of becoming almost meaningless. Fortunately, a growing number of mainstream religious leaders from around the state are calling out the nonsense. The latest battleground: public subsidies (such as vouchers) for religious schools.

The rabidly anti-gay, religious-right group Houston Area Pastor Council, which also goes by the name Texas Pastor Council and U.S. Pastor Council, is leading the effort to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The group, led by one of Houston’s most vicious anti-gay activists, Dave Welch, claims that barring discrimination against people because of who they are or whom they love violates the religious freedom of people to, well, discriminate.

Then last week Welch’s group filed a brief with the Texas Supreme Court arguing that the failure of the state to provide taxpayer funding to faith-based schools is also a violation of religious freedom. The brief is for a major court long-running case on whether the way Texas funds its public schools violates the state Constitution. The Pastor Council argues, in part:

The total and complete exclusion of religious providers from the public education system severely implicates religious liberty, whereas their inclusion clearly does not violate religious liberty or the Establishment Clause per… Read More

By now you know that the Texas Supreme Court ordered the city of Houston to either repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) or put it up for a vote in November. Here’s something else you already know: The opponents of the ordinance — which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, sex, military status and other characteristics — are prone to make absurd statements on these issues, and they’re not likely to stop, not even after the November election.

Take Dave Welch of the far-right Texas Pastor Council. Welch has been an outspoken opponent of HERO and of Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

Welch is showing no signs of toning down the rhetoric.

Speaking to Craig James — yes, that Craig James — last week on a radio show for the far-right Family Research Council, Welch said the situation in Houston is “combat” in the “presence of evil.”

Listen to the short clip:

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The Houston Chronicle had an interesting article a week back comparing reactions to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down bans on same-sex marriage and the high court’s 1967 ruling against bans on interracial marriage. In both cases, the article notes, opponents have used religion in criticizing the court’s decisions.

Indeed, supporters of racial segregation often used religion as a justification for their stance. The Chronicle quotes a lower court judge in Virginia who ruled in favor of that state’s interracial marriage ban in the case that later went to the Supreme Court:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The article also quotes Bob Jones, the extreme-right, segregationist evangelical preacher, from a radio broadcast in 1960:

“God Almighty did not make the human race one race. It was not His purpose at all…. God made one blood of all nations, but He also drew boundary lines between races. If you are against segregation and against racial separation, then you are against God almighty.”

The article notes that the preacher’s own Bob Jones University didn’t even permit interracial dating… Read More

The folks at the Texas Pastor Council, like other religious-righters, are growing increasingly desperate in their attacks on the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples. In an email today to supporters, the Pastor Council’s Dave Welch calls for “press conferences, rallies, marches and civil disobedience” if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down bans on same-sex marriage:

“If the courts strikes down state Constitutional Amendments like Texas’ that define marriage as only the union of one man and one woman, declaring marriage between same sex couple a constitutional right…we must corporately and publicly declare this decision ‘unlawful’ as a direct violation of the ‘Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’ that undergirds our U.S. Constitution.  We will neither recognize nor obey such a decision and, in fact, justices who vote in this way should be impeached for abject violation of their oath and constitutional duty.”

Welch and his cohorts have denounced what they consider attacks on “traditional” marriage. But this amusing and informative video from writer and commentator Matt Baume does a good job explaining just what “traditional” marriage has meant in human history. It appears not to mean what Welch thinks it does.

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One of the most remarkable outcomes of the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature is the complete failure of the broadest legislative assault on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community anywhere in the country. It’s so remarkable in large part because Texas is deeply red state in which religious-right/tea party activists make up a powerful part of the Republican Party’s base.

Moreover, consider that while anti-LGBT discrimination bills were failing in the Texas Legislature, they were passing in other states. For example, North Carolina’s lawmakers are on the verge of allowing public officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to any couple whose relationship violates that official’s religion beliefs. Lawmakers in Alabama are getting closer to scrapping marriage licenses altogether — for everyone. They would force couples to enter into a contract and file it at the local courthouse. This process could create new obstacles for same-sex couples even if the Supreme Court rules they have the constitutional right to marry.

Following last November’s elections, religious-right and tea party groups in Texas confidently prepared their campaign to enshrine in state law discrimination against LGBT people in a wide range of areas, including marriage and public services. When the Texas Legislature convened in January, observers worried were that many… Read More