Pastor Khanh Huynh, who leads the Vietnamese Baptist Church in Houston, is taking in stride the subpoena filed by his city's mayor, lesbian Annise Parker, to obtain copies of his sermons and other communications with his congregation.
After all, he's seen such tactics before.
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Khanh lived under the communist regime in Vietnam before participating in the great boatlift of Vietnamese people who fled oppression in the Southeast Asian nation after the fall of Saigon.
In an interview, he told WND he left Vietnam because of the repression and absence of freedom of religion, speech and association.
The "boat people" made it to Malaysia, but the nation had a policy of refusing the Vietnamese refugees, and a battleship towed the boat back out to open water. Before they reached Indonesia, six people aboard had died, he said.
He eventually worked with United Nations resettlement programs to reach the U.S.
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"We could not express our freedom of religion and belief," he told WND. "We paid … to come to our country (the U.S.), that recognizes human rights of speech and religion."
Fast forward a generation, and he's now a U.S. citizen caught up in an effort by Houston city officials to defend in court a "non-discrimination" ordinance that Parker admitted was all about her.
As WND reported Monday, the measure creates a special class of citizens, allowing "gender-confused" people to use public restrooms designated for the opposite sex.
The city's subpoenas for sermons and communications regarding homosexuality or the mayor were issued to five pastors after opponents of the ordinance filed a lawsuit. The opponents had gathered what appeared to be enough signatures to force the council to repeal the ordinance, but the city attorney determined thousands of petition signatures were not valid. The lawsuit against the city's maneuver followed.
The pastors were part of a coalition of Houston-area churches that opposed the law, but they were not part of the lawsuit.
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Representing the pastors, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion to quash the city's demands to see the sermons in the case's discovery phase, arguing the pastors are not party to the suit.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the subpoenas "unbefitting of Texans, and it's un-American."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., joined him.
"I stand with the pastors and churches in Houston against government interference and harassment," he said.
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Paul noted the First Amendment "doesn't exist to keep religion out of government."
"It exists to keep government out of religion."
Huynh told WND that as a pastor and Christian, he must express perspectives on moral issues "without government oversight."
"We voice our opinion. We're standing for righteousness on a moral issue. The issue is that we have got to stand up for our belief," he explained. "We will not back down."
He described the city's move as an "intimidation tactic."
The city's message, he said, is: "If we speak up we will pay. … That is what they tried to do to us. To silence us."
But, according to the Bible, he said, pastors must teach their congregation regarding moral choices.
"A biological male can have access to a [women's] restroom? That is not what we want to see in America. That is what we've run from," he said.
Nearly 2 million boat people fled from Vietnam beginning in 1979. Many didn't survive the voyage to Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand oe Indonesia. More than one half of all who successfully fled ended up in the United States.
WND reported the issue has provoked nationwide criticism of Houston officials.
City officials at first doubled down, with Parker stating, "If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game."
But the Washington Times reported Houston officials then said they would try to "narrow the scope" of their demands, a move ADF legal counsel Joe La Rue said was "wholly inadequate."
Christiana Holcom, ADF litigation counsel, dismissed the idea that the city had in any way backed off.
"The shame that the city of Houston has brought upon itself is real, but the claim that it has changed course is not. The city has so far taken no concrete action to withdraw the subpoenas. Furthermore, the subpoenas themselves are the problem – not just their request for pastors' sermons," she said.
"The city is not off the hook from its illegitimate request for emails, text messages, and other communications in which these pastors, who are not even party to this lawsuit, may have disagreed with the mayor. The way to fix this is to withdraw the subpoenas entirely. Otherwise, the city's and the mayor's overtures are simply more window-dressing intended to shield them from public scrutiny."
Enabling sexual predators
The lawsuit challenging Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance alleges the city violated its own charter in its adoption of the law, which in May designated homosexuals and transgender persons as a protected class.
Critics say the measure effectively enables sexual predators who dress as women to enter female public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities. A coalition of activists that includes area pastors filed suit Aug. 6 against the city and Parker after officials announced a voter petition to repeal the measure didn't have enough signatures to qualify for the election ballot.
According to a deposition from Houston city Secretary Anna Russell, her office had counted 19,177 signatures in the petition to repeal the measure and then stopped, because the qualifying number of 17,269 signatures already had been reached, with a margin.
The pastors' coalition explained, "Her position is that it would be a waste of resources to continue to count when we clearly and easily had met the city charter standard."
However, the deposition revealed that the mayor and the city attorney, David Feldman, then simply overturned the result.
Russell said she was told to add the following statement to her count: "According to the city attorney's office and reviewed by the city secretary the analysis of the city attorney’s office, 2,750 pages containing 16,010 signatures do not contain sufficient acknowledgment as required by the charter. Therefore, according to the city attorney’s office only 2,449 pages containing 15,249 signatures can lawfully be considered toward the signatures required."
The lawsuit was filed shortly later.
'Big Brother overlords'
The city's subpoena of the pastors, ADF contends, doesn't meet the requirements of state law that requires such efforts "be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, not be overly broad, seek only information that is not privileged and relevant to the subject matter of the litigation, and not cause undue burden or harassment."
ADF said city officials are upset about the voter lawsuit and is "illegitimately demanding that the pastors, who are not party to the lawsuit, turn over their constitutionally protected sermons and other communications simply so the city can see if the pastors have ever opposed or criticized the city."
"City council members are supposed to be public servants, not 'Big Brother' overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. "In this case, they have embarked upon a witch hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it."
ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb said the city's subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is needless and unprecedented.
"The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions. Political and social commentary is not a crime; it is protected by the First Amendment," she said.
WND has reported similar measures in other jurisdictions across the country. Opponents point to incidents such a man in Indianapolis who allegedly went into a women's locker room at a YMCA and watched girls, ages 7 and 10, shower.
Opposition in Houston was led by a coalition including the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston, the Houston Area Pastor Council, the Houston Ministers against Crime, AME Ministers Alliance of Houston/Gulf Coast, the Northeast Ministers Alliance, the South Texas Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship, the South Texas District of the Assemblies of God and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
The coalition had submitted more than 55,000 signatures in the referendum drive. Russell confirmed in writing Aug. 1 that the petition sponsors had submitted 17,846 qualified signatures, nearly 600 above the minimum 17,269.
Opponents have argued Feldman did not have the authority to step in and make the decision and that if there were concerns over the petitions, it should have been handled by the courts.
Critics dubbed the Houston law the "sexual predator protection act," claiming that by designating transgender or gender-confused persons as a protected class, women and children are threatened by predators seeking to exploit the ordinance's ambiguous language.
Political activist Steven F. Hotze said the ordinance would establish minority status for transvestites, allowing men who dress as women to enter women's public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities.
"I want to protect my wife, daughters and granddaughters from being exposed to the dangers of male sexual predators masquerading as women in women's public bathrooms and other facilities," he said. "This is why it has been called the Sexual Predators' Protection Act."
Similar cases also have erupted in Maryland, Florida and Colorado, which adopted a radical "transgender nondiscrimination" bill in 2008 that makes it illegal to deny a person access to public accommodations, including restrooms and locker rooms, based on gender identity or the "perception" of gender identity. One consequence of the law is a ruling forcing authorities to permit 6-year-old Coy Mathis – a boy who says he thinks he's a girl – to use the girls bathroom at his elementary school.
Nationwide, 17 states and the District of Columbia have embraced the transsexual agenda. Rhode Island added "gender identity and expression" to its anti-discrimination law in June with the support of Gov. Jack Markell, and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden announced his support in an Equality Delaware video.
But other attempts to advance the transsexual agenda were defeated in Montana, Missouri, North Dakota and New York, where state Senate leaders refused to allow a vote.
Here what happened in Washington state:
The Obama administration is solidly behind the move to open locker room doors to some members of the opposite sex.
- President Obama signed the U.N. Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity;
- The White House hosted the first-ever meeting with transgender activists;
- The Department of State made it easier for transsexuals to change the sex indicated on passports;
- The U.S. Justice Department sided with a transsexual individual in an employment discrimination suit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives;
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled for the first time last year that "gender identity or expression" in the workplace is protected under federal civil rights law;
- The Office of Personnel Management inserted "gender identity" for the first time into its federal workplace anti-discrimination policy;
- The American Psychiatric Association removed "gender identity disorder" from its list of mental health ailments in late 2012, a move some regarded as a lifting of the social stigma attached to transsexual behavior.