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Thousands Stand with Pastors Targeted by Houston Mayor

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WASHINGTON - Thousands gathered in a Houston church Sunday evening and many more watched online to defend the right of pastors to be free of government intimidation.

The gathering came after Houston Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian, and fellow officials subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors.

Host Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, told the crowd at Houston's Grace Community Church that more than 700 churches and 3,000 home groups had signed up to take part in the "I Stand Sunday" event via the webcast.

"I stand here today with you that I may speak, preach and teach on the issues that deal with society, the issues that the Bible speaks about," Pastor Hernan Castano of Iglesia Rios de Aceite, one of the "Houston Five" -- as the pastors have become known -- said.

Mayor Parker became upset with church-organized opposition to a pro-gay, pro-transgender city ordinance. In a legal move, she had called for local pastors' sermons to be subpoenaed.

Erik Stanley, a senior legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, has been representing the pastors.

"These subpoenas are just one front in a rapidly developing conflict. And the philosophy underlying this conflict is that sexual liberty trumps everything, including religious liberty," Stanley said.

Another of the pastors' lawyers, Andy Taylor, told participants it's sad how far Houston officials have strayed from the spirit of the First Amendment.

"'I may not like what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,' and that is what the First Amendment is based on, ladies and gentlemen," Taylor said, quoting Voltaire.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee pointed out an important truth about the Bill of Rights.

"It never, ever, ever told you, as a citizen, what you cannot do. Every one of the Bill of Rights tells the government what it can't do," Huckabee explained. "And it tells the government it cannot encroach on what your pastor says or what you believe."

After the outcry, Mayor Parker withdrew the subpoenas, but the pastors and their allies suspect the battle's far from over.

Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson knows about facing pressure while standing up for his beliefs. He admonished the Texans involved in this struggle to embrace the fight.

"It's been granted to you, Texas, to not only believe in Jesus, but also to suffer for Him," Robertson said. "Praise God for suffering for Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Let's get it on."

Dr. Rick Scarborough, with Vision America asked, "Isn't it just like God to give us Texans a chance to show the world what Texas pastors are made of?"

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the church has to shake off apathy and take the lead in getting the nation right with God.

"I say this to all of Houston and I say it to the church of America tonight: It is time for us to wake up from our slumber," he said.

Then Floyd asked people to get on their knees as he led them in a prayer of repentance.

Huckabee suggested one of the things Christians must repent of is political apathy.

"We have not just the right to vote. But if we love God, we have a responsibility to vote and to be the salt and light of our nation. And we have failed," Huckabee said.

"There are 80 million self-proclaimed evangelicals in America," the former governor explained. "Of the 80 million evangelicals, only half of them are even registered to vote. Of the half that are registered to vote, only half of them voted in the presidential election."

"And of those, only half of them will vote in an off-year election," he continued. "And we wonder why it is that we're seeing the kinds of things we're seeing in cities like Houston, Texas."

Another of the "Houston Five," Senior Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church, asked people to come to Houston City Hall at 11 a.m. Wednesday, November 5, to ask Mayor Parker to allow a vote of the city's citizens on the pro-gay, pro-transgender ordinance that led to this confrontation in the first place.

Todd Starnes, host of FOX News Radio, writes frequently about attacks on religious liberty in America. He suggested Houston pastors and parishioners need to be as strong as some of the students standing up for their religious rights in school.

Starnes cited Roy Costner of Liberty, South Carolina, who slated to give the valedictorian speech at his high school graduation. When he submitted his speech, school officials began blacking out large sections.

"And Roy Costner was told that he was not allowed to say anything about Jesus, and they marked that out of his speech," Starnes recounted. "They said 'Roy, you're not allowed to say anything about the Bible,' so they marked that out of his speech. And then they said, 'Roy, you can't say anything about Christianity in the speech.' And Roy told me the speech looked like an NSA document that had been redacted."

When graduation day came, school officials wouldn't let Roy carry anything to the podium and what awaited him there was the speech they'd approved.

"Roy Costner stood before that large crowd and he took that government-approved speech in his hands and he tore it in half and he asked the audience to rise to their feet and he said, 'Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.' Roy Costner, 18 years old, took a stand," Starnes said.

Perkins ended the evening with a command from Ephesians 6.

"In the end it simply comes down to one thing -- standing.  'Having done all, stand," Perkins said.

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About The Author


As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress. Strand began his tenure at CBN News in 1985 as an evening assignment editor in Washington, D.C. After a year, he worked with CBN Radio News for three years, returning to the television newsroom to accept a position as editor in 1990. After five years in Virginia Beach, Strand moved back to the nation's capital, where he has been a correspondent since 1995. Before joining CBN News, Strand served as the newspaper editor for