Update: Houston mayor drops bid to subpoena pastors’ sermons By Todd Starnes

Subpoenas issued to five Houston pastors demanding all sermons and correspondence dealing with homosexuality, gender identity and the city’s Equal Rights ordinance have been withdrawn, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor announced at a Wednesday press conference.

“After much contemplation and discussion, I am directing the city legal department to withdraw the subpoenas issued to the five Houston pastors who delivered the petitions, the anti-HERO petitions, to the city of Houston and who indicated that they were responsible for the overall petition effort,” said Mayor Annise Parker in remarks covered by television station KPRC.

My column on the issue sparked a bit of national outrage – well – a lot of national outrage. To be honest it was a full-scale hullabaloo. City Hall was deluged with telephone calls, letters, emails – along with hundreds of Bibles and sermons. More than 50,000 supporters signed a petition.

The only way to stop the bullying is to allow the good people of Houston the right to vote on that nondiscrimination ordinance.

Nevertheless, the mayor still seems hell-bent on defending the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance – a piece of legislation that will in part give grown men who identify as women the right to use the restrooms of their choice.

“It is extremely important to me to protect our Equal Rights Ordinance from repeal, and it is extremely important to me to make sure that every Houstonian knows that their lives are valid and protected and acknowledged,” Parker said. “We are going to continue to vigorously defend our ordinance against repeal efforts.”

The subpoenas were issued in response to a lawsuit filed related to the so-called bathroom bill. An overwhelming number of religious groups were opposed to a provision of the law that would allow men who identify as women to use the restrooms of their choice.

Critics gathered 50,000 signatures to petition the city to put the issue on the ballot. But the city attorney threw out the petitions – alleging there were not enough legitimate signatures.

Erik Stanley, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, represented the five pastors. He said he was gratified the mayor withdrew the subpoenas.

“She really had no choice but to withdraw the subpoenas,” Stanley told me. “She was roundly criticized from the right and the left – from all across the nation.”

Stanley said the mayor’s actions were a violation of the First Amendment and an abuse of power.

“They were only intended to intimidate and to bully pastors into silence,” he said of the subpoenas. “It sent a terrible message to the faith community in Houston and across the country.”

Pastor Steve Riggle was one of the ministers who was subpoenaed.

“You don’t mess with the pulpits,” he told me.

His opinion of the mayor remains unchanged.

“You are not a little dictator to do whatever you want – and that’s what we have right now in Houston, Texas,” he said. “It’s important that everybody keep their eye on what’s happening here.”

The Family Research Council is hosting a nationally-simulcast rally at Riggle’s mega-church on Sunday. Thousands are expected to attend “I Stand Sunday” in person and more than 2,500 churches and home groups have signed up to air the simulcast.

The event includes messages from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Duck Commander Phil Robertson, and yours truly – among others.

“This is what bullies do when people stand up to them,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “They back down.”

Perkins told me the response to “I Stand Sunday” has been overwhelming.

“Americans realize this agenda is not simply about equal rights,” he said. “It’s about elevated sexual behavior above religious freedom. Americans are tired of being bullied by the left.”

And let’s be honest, folks – that’s exactly what’s been happening in the Lone Star State. Christians are getting bullied by Houston’s mayor and city attorney.

And the only way to stop the bullying is to allow the good people of Houston the right to vote on that nondiscrimination ordinance.

“This is about political intimidation,” Perkins said. “And that intimidation continues as long as the citizens are denied the right to vote on this ordinance.”

Randy White, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Katy said his congregation is prepared to fight.

“They will stand for any kind of removal of pulpit freedom,” he told me. “The pastor, the church, the congregation has got to be able to speak their mind on issues.”

White delivered an impassioned sermon about religious liberty that went viral online.

“I will not turn over a jot or a tittle,” he announced from the pulpit. He warned that turning over any sermons to the government is the “first step towards totalitarianism.”

But he warned that the fight is not over in Houston.

“We haven’t won,” he said. ‘The citizenry of Houston is still denied the right to petition and to vote on this matter,” he said.

And quite frankly, I’m not sure Houston’s mayor will allow them to vote.

On Tuesday a group of clergy met with Houston’s mayor. Afterwards, some of those ministers met with Pastor Riggle. They relayed a portion of the private conversation they had with the mayor.

“She told them, ‘I’m not going to let the citizens of Houston vote on my civil rights,’” Riggle said.

Friends — that is a very chilling statement.

And it’s just more that whenever you see the word “nondiscrimination” it usually means religious folks are being discriminated against.

I encourage you and your local church to join us on Sunday to send a message to those who would infringe on religious liberty. We will not be silent. We will not be intimidated.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is “God Less America.”

Published on October 29, 2014

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Fifty Years Ago Today….

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Review of Rickey and Robinson

Rickey and Robinson

In his book, Rickey and Robinson: The True Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball, renown sports columnist, Roger Kahn, documents the roles of the two men, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, who were instrumental in breaking the color barrier in “America’s Favorite Pastime.” Kahn first gives a biography of each man before delving into the social and cultural environment of the time of Robinson’s entrance into the Major Leagues. Rickey and Robinson relies on the personal testimony of both men, and other eyewitness accounts, as well as newspaper columns, to give a reliable narrative to an event that is surrounded by myth and mystery.

There is no question that columnist Roger Kahn was privy to one of the most watershed moments in baseball and American History. At times, his prose is poetic, heroic and heart-breaking. He knows the game of baseball and the personalities around it like few in this generation. He does not sugarcoat the imperfections of either Rickey or Robinson, but gives a realistic profile of both. However, his reporting is colored by his own political leanings, which is distracting. He also repeats the same stories rather than reporting in a chronological narrative, which is confusing.

I enjoyed the personal and honest look at both Rickey and Robinson, but the reader should be aware of the language used. As a Dodger fan and a Robinson fan, I appreciate the sacrifices and contributions of Robinson and Rickey that made the game of baseball better.
However, I do not understand why Roger Kahn chose to make a salacious accusation Robinson’s character two pages before the book’s end. If the allegation is true, the revelation is out of place, unnecessary, and only leads to speculation. For this reason, I hesitate to fully endorse Rickey and Robinson: The True Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball.

I was given a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

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Review of Out of the Storm

Out of the Storm

In Jody Hedlund’s novella, Out of the Storm, Isabelle lives with her father, a lighthouse keeper, on the lonely shores of Michigan. When they rescue Henry, a stranger from a devastating shipwreck, Isabelle’s life takes an unexpected turn. As Isabelle and Henry’s relationship grows deeper than friendship, what will her father do? And will Isabelle’s secret destroy any chance at love?

The era and setting in which Out of the Storm is placed are enjoyable. The descriptions of the landscape are breath-taking. However, the rest of the story leaves much to be desired. The plot is rushed and has few surprises. The characters are under-developed and unbelievable. But the most disappointing aspect of the novel is the romance which leaves little to the imagination. The sensuality takes away from the sweetness of the relationship between Henry and Isabella. I look forward to better stories from Jody Hedlund in the future.

I was given a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

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An Impotant Touchdown

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City of Houston Demands Pastors Turn over Sermons by Todd Starnes

The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.

“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christina Holcomb said in a statement. “The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”

ADF, a nationally-known law firm specializing in religious liberty cases, is representing five Houston pastors. They filed a motion in Harris County court to stop the subpoenas arguing they are “overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious.”

“Political and social commentary is not a crime,” Holcomb said. “It is protected by the First Amendment.”

The subpoenas are just the latest twist in an ongoing saga over the Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance. The law, among other things, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa. The city council approved the law in June.

The Houston Chronicle reported opponents of the ordinance launched a petition drive that generated more than 50,000 signatures – far more than the 17,269 needed to put a referendum on the ballot.

However, the city threw out the petition in August over alleged irregularities.

After opponents of the bathroom bill filed a lawsuit the city’s attorneys responded by issuing the subpoenas against the pastors.

The pastors were not part of the lawsuit. However, they were part of a coalition of some 400 Houston-area churches that opposed the ordinance. The churches represent a number of faith groups – from Southern Baptist to non-denominational.

“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,” said ADF attorney Erik Stanley. “This is designed to intimidate pastors.”

Mayor Parker will not explain why she wants to inspect the sermons. I contacted City Hall for a comment and received a terse reply from the mayor’s director of communications.

“We don’t comment on litigation,” said Janice Evans.

However, ADF attorney Stanley suspects the mayor wants to publicly shame the ministers. He said he anticipates they will hold up their sermons for public scrutiny. In other words – the city is rummaging for evidence to “out” the pastors as anti-gay bigots.

Among those slapped with a subpoena is Steve Riggle, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church. He was ordered to produce all speeches and sermons related to Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality and gender identity.

The mega-church pastor was also ordered to hand over “all communications with members of your congregation” regarding the non-discrimination law.

“This is an attempt to chill pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day,” Riggle told me. “The mayor would like to silence our voice. She’s a bully.”

Rev. Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, also received a subpoena. He said he will not be intimidated by the mayor.

“We’re not afraid of this bully,” he said. “We’re not intimidated at all.”

He accused the city of violating the law with the subpoenas and vowed to stand firm in the faith.

“We are not going to yield our First Amendment rights,” Welch told me. ‘This is absolutely a complete abuse of authority.”

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said pastors around the nation should rally around the Houston ministers.

“The state is breaching the wall of separation between church and state,” Perkins told me. ‘Pastors need to step forward and challenge this across the country. I’d like to see literally thousands of pastors after they read this story begin to challenge government authorities – to dare them to come into their churches and demand their sermons.”

Perkins called the actions by Houston’s mayor “obscene” and said they “should not be tolerated.”

“This is a shot across the bow of the church,” he said.

This is the moment I wrote about in my book, “God Less America.” I predicted that the government would one day try to silence American pastors. I warned that under the guise of “tolerance and diversity” elected officials would attempt to deconstruct religious liberty.

Sadly, that day arrived sooner than even I expected.

Tony Perkins is absolutely right. Now is the time for pastors and people of faith to take a stand. We must rise up and reject this despicable strong-arm attack on religious liberty. We cannot allow ministers to be intimidated by government thugs.

The pastors I spoke to tell me they will not comply with the subpoena – putting them at risk for a “fine or confinement, or both.”

Heaven forbid that should happen. But if it does, Christians across America should be willing to descend en masse upon Houston and join these brave men of God behind bars.

Pastor Welch compared the culture war skirmish to the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto, fought in present-day Harris County, Texas. It was a decisive battle of the Texas Revolution.

“This is the San Jacinto moment for traditional family,” Welch told me. “This is the place where we stop the LGBT assault on the freedom to practice our faith.”

We can no longer remain silent. We must stand together – because one day – the government might come for your pastor.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is “God Less America.”


Posted October 14, 2014

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An Open Letter to Brittany Maynard by Kara Tippetts

You may have read the poignant & powerful, CNN front-page story of cancer patient Brittany Maynard, 29, who has scheduled her death for Nov. 1? Come November 1, Maynard plans to take a pill given to her by her doctors as she wants to choose her own death and avoid hospice and the suffering her brain-tumor cancer may entail — Her story-gone-viral speaks of her plan to swallow the pill and choose death on her own terms in her own bedroom with her husband beside her and her favorite music playing in the background. Her story is raw — and she has all our love and prayers…. Before she dies by assisted suicide, Brittany states that she wants to use the rest of her time on earth to lobby for every American to have access to assisted suicide services.

After I read Brittany’s story yesterday… my friend Kara Tippetts dropped an email into my inbox — Kara was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36. She has 4 young children. She continues to battle that cancer two years later as it has crossed the blood/brain barrier and has metastasized into her entire body. I’ve been reading Kara’s journey since the beginning, profoundly moved by this woman’s courage to embrace all of her life as it comes to her… Kara’s exceptional book released this week, The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard — and Kara humbly speaks important words into this current news story and national conversation about assisted suicide with a tender weight & compassionate gravity that only someone, a mother, a wife, a daughter, bravely facing terminal cancer can — we earnestly love and pray for both women as they each share own their stories:

by Kara Tippetts

Dear Brittany Maynard,

This morning my best friend and I read your story.

My heart ached for you, and I’m simply grieved by your terminal brain tumor, for the less than 6 months the doctor’s gave you, you just past your 29th birthday.

With a heavy heart, I left my home and headed for my oncologist. I too am dying, Brittany.Kara Tippetts knows the ordinary days of mothering four kids, the joy of watching her children grow … and the devastating reality of stage-four cancer.Kara Tippetts knows the ordinary days of mothering four kids, the joy of watching her children grow … and the devastating reality of stage-four cancer.

My oncologist and I sat for a long time with hurting hearts for your story. We spoke in gentle tones discussing the hard path you are being asked to travel.

I came home and my friend and I sat on the bed of my five year old and prayed for you. We simply prayed you would hear my words from the most tender and beautifully broken place of my heart.

We prayed you would hear my words that are on paper coming from a place of tender love and knowing. Knowing what it is to know the horizon of your days that once felt limitless now feels to be dimming.

So hear these words from a heart full of love for you.

Brittany, your life matters, your story matters, and your suffering matters. Thank you for stepping out from the privacy of your story and sharing it openly.

We see you, we see your life, and there are countless lovers of your heart that are praying you would change your mind.

Brittany, I love you, and I’m sorry you are dying. I am sorry that we are both being asked to walk a road that feels simply impossible to walk.

I think the telling of your story is important.

I think it is good for our culture to know what is happening in Oregon.

It’s a discussion that needs to be brought out of the quiet corners and brought brightly into the light. You sharing your story has done that. It matters, and it is unbelievably important. Thank you.

Dear heart, we simply disagree. Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known
Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.

In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths.

As I sat on the bed of my young daughter praying for you, I wondered over the impossibility of understanding that one day the story of my young daughter will be made beautiful in her living because she witnessed my dying.

That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters — but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed.

Knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying. My heart longs for you to know Him in your dying. Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place.
Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place.

Brittany, when we trust Jesus to be the carrier, protecter, redeemer of our hearts, death is no longer dying. My heart longs for you to know this truth, this love, this forever living.

You have been told a lie. A horrible lie, that your dying will not be beautiful. That the suffering will be too great.

Today my oncologist and I spoke of your dying, of my dying, and of the beautiful partnership I have with my doctors in carrying me to my last moments with gentle care. For two thousand years doctors have lived beside the beautiful stream of protecting life and lovingly meeting patients in their dying with grace.

The doctor that prescribed you that pill you carry with you that will hasten your last breath has walked away from the hippocratic oath that says, “first, do no harm.” He or she has walked away from the oath that has protected life and the beautiful dying we are granted. The doctors agreeing to such medicine are walking away from the beautiful protection of the hippocratic oath.

There are also people who are speaking in ugly tones that make those of us who believe in Jesus seem unsafe, unkind, or unloving. Will you forgive us for the voices that feel like they are screaming at you from a heart that isn’t loving.

But in my whispering, pleading, loving voice dear heart- will you hear my heart ask you, beg you, plead with you — not to take that pill. Yes, your dying will be hard, but it will not be without beauty
Yes, your dying will be hard, but it will not be without beauty.
Will you please trust me with that truth.

More importantly, will you hear from my heart that Jesus loves you. He loves you. He loves you. He died an awful death upon a cross so that you would know Him today that we would no longer live separate from Him and in our death. He died and His death happened, it is not simply a story.

He died and He overcame death three days later, and in that overcoming of death He overcame the death you and I are facing in our cancer. He longs to know you, to shepherd you in your dying, and to give you life and give you life abundant- eternal life.

For everyone living knowing death is eminent- that we all will one day face this it – the question that is most important. Who is this Jesus, and what does He have to do with my dying? Please do not take that pill before you ask yourself that question.

It’s a question we all must ask, as we are all dying.

I recently wrote a book, The Hardest Peace, and I also blog about my journey of my living and my journey towards my last breath. It is not simply a story of dying of cancer, but of living this breath. It’s a book for each of us that has breath still to breath, to embrace our living, and to look upon our dying with grace. Living in BIG LOVE and meeting my end in love. Stunning, important, love.

But more than my book, I would jump on a plane tomorrow to meet you and share the beautiful brokenness of my story and meet you in yours if you would ever consider having me.

I pray my words reach you.

I pray they reach the multitudes that are looking at your story and believing the lie that suffering is a mistake, that dying isn’t to be braved, that choosing our death is the courageous story.

No – hastening death was never what God intended.
But in our dying, He does meet us with His beautiful grace.
But in our dying, He does meet us with His beautiful grace.

The hippocratic oath matters, and those that are choosing to walk away from it need to be challenged.

My heart hurts that they have decided to swim from the shores of grace that it protected in our living and dying.

I get to partner with my doctor in my dying, and it’s going to be a beautiful and painful journey for us all.

But, hear me — it is not a mistake —

beauty will meet us in that last breath.

Kara Tippetts knows the ordinary days of mothering four kids, the joy of watching her children grow … and the devastating reality of stage-four cancer.

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