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Did you read Fr. Lawrence’s response to Houston Mayor Parker’s subpoena demanding area pastors submit their sermons? Today we received a letter from one of our listeners, informing us that the subpoena has been withdrawn. She also sent us a statement made by Richard Kelsey, Assistant Dean of the George Mason University School of Law. Here’s what he said.
STATEMENT: Richard Kelsey, Assistant Dean at George Mason University School of Law:
Mayor Parker rocketed to infamy in Houston when she attempted jettisoning Constitutional religious liberty by using local government coercion and the courts to demand the sermons of Houston pastors with whom she disagreed. That ominous abuse of government power was scuttled when ordinary Houstonians and people of faith nationwide rose up to protect religious liberty by using their First Amendment rights.
An unrepentant Mayor Parker surrendered today, though begrudgingly. She did not admit the frailty of her legal positon, but instead recognized that attacks on Constitutional rights by the government are still politically unpopular. The news today is not that Mayor Parker embraced political reality. It is that she represents a small but thriving portion of our society that thinks government may and should intrude on religious liberty to force upon citizens political dogma that infringes on Constitutional rights.
Earth to Mayor Parker … the Constitution, religious freedom, and free speech were designed to protect unpopular speech. Anyone may champion popular speech, but the First Amendment was crafted to test our willingness to stand behind speech that infuriates. Religious liberty too is a Constitutional right. It’s not one of these Constitutional rights found hiding in penumbras. It’s a right about which our founders were so passionate; they put it first in of our Bill of Rights. The local ordinance on which Mayor Parker relied to assault the Constitution was used not as the shield of protection for which it was drafted, but rather as a sword. An ordinance that purports to protect rights is legally suspect when it is used in practice to limit Constitutional rights.
Mayor Parker’s use of the Courts to try to force pastors to surrender their sermons was an unprecedented legal attack on the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Those rights are not subject to despotic local control. Regulation of First Amendment rights is always suspect, and those who would mount an open assault on those rights likewise deserve our healthy but vigorous suspicion. Religious liberty and free speech stand strong, irrespective of the legal tomfoolery by Mayor Parker. The political system remains the best solution to politicians who assault liberty and Freedom. Mayor Parker assumes the accurate but unenviable role as an American politician who thought she could subpoena pastors and regulate religious liberty. Sadly, this political attack on the Constitution is not a problem unique to Houston. It is, however, an attack too weak to pierce the mighty shield of our First Amendment liberties.
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