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The law as it relates to Christians and their free exercise of religion

Posts Tagged ‘houston’

Judge Gives FEMA 3 Weeks to Change Policy Banning Churches From Receiving Disaster Relief

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on November 12, 2017

A Houston federal judge has given FEMA three weeks to decide if its going to change its policy of denying disaster relief to religious institutions, rejecting FEMA’s attempt to delay a challenge by three Texas churches.

Since the devastation by Hurricane Harvey in late August, FEMA has denied houses of worship access to federal disaster aid grants due to their religious status while allowing other nonprofits and businesses to apply, but Judge Keith Ellison has given the agency until Dec. 1 to change that policy.

If FEMA fails to change the policy within the deadline, the judge said he would issue a ruling.

“Christmas may come early for hard-hit houses of worship in Texas — the court has set the clock ticking on FEMA’s irrational religious discrimination policy,” Daniel Blomberg, counsel at Becket, the nonprofit religious liberty law firm that represents the churches, said in a statement. “It can’t come soon enough.”

(PHOTO: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA/FILE PHOTO)A Federal Emergency Management Agency employee waits for the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump during a visit at FEMA headquarters in Washington, U.S., August 4, 2017.

Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle and Rockport First Assembly of God, which were among the first to respond in Harvey’s aftermath and continue to provide aid to their communities, sued FEMA in September.

Last month, a Roman Catholic and a Jewish group submitted friend-of-the-court briefs siding with the three evangelical churches.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston pointed out in its brief that FEMA’s policy is “especially unfair,” given that many houses of worship are often at the “very forefront” of providing “immediate aid to persons in need, regardless of faith, in the aftermath of serious tropic storms and other natural disasters.”

The Congregation Torah Vachesed synagogue of Houston noted that Hurricane Harvey was “particularly unforgiving” to the city’s Jewish community. “Despite this, Jewish institutions have been greatly involved in relief efforts throughout Houston. FEMA’s policy against funding otherwise qualifying religious institutions, however, would deny these same institutions equal access to public assistance to repair flood damage,” it wrote.

Secular groups, such as the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said earlier that FEMA’s policy should remain as is. “The government can help many individuals and nonprofits rebuild, but not churches. It is a founding principal of our nation that citizens may not be taxed in support of religion and churches,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor argued.

“Discriminating against houses of worship — which are often on the front lines of disaster relief — is not just wrongheaded, it strikes at our nation’s most fundamental values,” said Blomberg.

In September, four Republican senators introduced a new bill, Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act, which is aimed at giving houses of worship the right to receive federal assistance in the wake of natural disasters.

Courtesy of


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City of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on October 15, 2014

Annise-ParkerThe 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.

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Would you believe 1 million to attend Christian concert?

Posted by faithandthelaw on March 15, 2010

By Drew Zahn
© 2010 WorldNetDaily

 A local newspaper ran a two-page article on the concert titled “Calling All Christians,” and that’s exactly what Jim Plack and the organizers of Jubileefest are doing, seeking to gather 1 million people to a farm outside of tiny Houston, Del., this summer for a praise and prayer event for the nation.

 “Every Christian should be there,” quipped the Jubileefest website, “but we only have room for a million.”  

Never mind that Jublieefest is in its inaugural year. Never mind that the crowd Plack is hoping to gather is more than three times larger than any Christian concert event in history and twice as big as 1969’s “Three Days of Peace and Music.” Plack is trusting God to fulfill the vision he says the Almighty has given him, a vision for a concert that will impact the nation even more than the fabled Woodstock.

 “If half a million hippies can gather on farm in New York to do drugs and have sex,” Plack told WND, “certainly God can bring a million Christians to a farm in Delaware.”

 Christian music festivals like Minnesota’s four-day-long Sonshine draw tens of thousands of fans every summer across America. Pennsylvania’s mega-rally CreationFest draws hundreds of thousands.

And while Plack doesn’t expect record-setting crowds for all four days of the July 29 – Aug. 1 Jubileefest, he is calling for a million Christians to come on one night, July 31, for a prayer and praise event that will boldly proclaim to the nation’s “PC (politically correct) police” that America’s faithful are a force to be reckoned with.

“The Christian community hasn’t really come together and said, ‘Here we are, look at us,'” Plack said. “If we put a million people on a farm, that’s something that can’t be ignored.”

What makes Plack think Jubileefest can draw so many people for one night of prayer and praise?

He told WND that the location – not far from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and within a two-hour drive of Philadelphia, New York City and major population centers in Virginia and Pennsylvania – should help.

Jubileefest’s announced lineup on five stages of continuous activity should be a draw, too, with headliner Christian musicians such as Rebecca St. James, Mercy Me, Newsboys, Sonic Flood and “American Idol” finalist Chris Sligh. Speakers scheduled include Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, David Jeremiah, Kirk Cameron and comedian Tim Hawkins.

But most importantly, Plack believes this is a God-sized goal that Providence is already working to achieve.

The story behind the vision

Nearly 10 years ago, Jim Plack sold a successful insurance agency he had run for 25 years, intending to sit back and enjoy the spoils of his labor.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, Jim’s plans and priorities came crashing down with the Twin Towers.

“When I saw President Bush in tears over 9/11, it broke my heart,” Plack told WND. “I’d been thinking about life all the wrong way.”

An encounter in a trailer park in Delaware gave Plack yet another shock and a new direction.

“I met this old couple, retired, just living on Social Security. They had to pay for the trailer and land rent, and by the time they were done, they couldn’t afford food or to fix their broken furnace,” he explained. “They were just sitting around a kerosene heater, shivering and hungry. It was just horrible.

“Even though they went through welfare programs to get assistance, they were told they lived just a half mile outside the area of a program that would actually help,” he said. “And they are not unique. The safety net of Social Security didn’t do what it was supposed to do. In urban areas, there are all kinds of programs, but out in our rural area, no such animal.”

The experience prompted Plack and his brother Phil to form a charity to help and honor the nation’s elderly. Today, their American Retirement Assistance Corporation gives nearly 100 percent of the funds it raises directly to senior citizens tax-free, with the goal of lifting them from mere Social Security existence to over the poverty line.

The brothers then tried their hand at concert benefits for ARA, to only meager success. But last year, Jim saw an open field on a 2,000-acre farm in Maryland and caught the vision for seeing it filled with a million people.

“We committed the whole thing to God,” Jim told WND, “because to really trust God, he’s got to do this. We’ve never done anything like this before on this grand of a scale.”

God shows up

For the Plack brothers, Jubileefest has been a leap of faith from the very beginning. Their faith, in turn, has been rewarded with both stunning setbacks and sudden turns of fortune the brothers attribute only to God.

Phil, who says he’s the “nuts and bolts” to his brother’s vision and passion, told WND one of the biggest initial challenges was convincing major artists to sign on to their fledgling dream – without the up-front money musicians typically demand.

“We’ve been contacting the agents of artists we had in mind, telling them up front we don’t have a big war chest of cash, so we were unable to offer various artists the 50 percent deposit most require,” Phil said. “Instead, we drafted a deposit system, whereby 90 days out from event, we give 50 percent of the fee, 30 days out another 25 percent and the balance on the last day of their appearance.”

“Only God could do this,” Jim added. “It’s unheard of to be booking talent without deposit money.”

Several of the artists, as might be expected, balked at the idea. Others, however, looked at the Jubileefest website and realized the opportunity to be a part of something never done before.

“All of the artists listed on our website have agreed to do the festival on that payment basis,” Phil explained. “We took the posture that those not willing or able were just not the ones God want to be part of this event this year. I think God has given us a terrific lineup.

“We have seen God work time after time opening doors,” Phil said. “We believe with all of our hearts it will be tremendous success.”

Jubileefest, however, came to the razor’s edge of being cancelled only a few months ago.

Jim told WND the story of the day he learned that the Maryland farm he had envisioned holding a million worshippers … was suddenly scratched from the plan:

“Initially, we missed getting some of the acts together, sending us back to the drawing board and forcing delays,” Jim explained. “When we were finally able to get back to the farmer, he said, ‘Jim, we just leased out the land; you can’t use it.'”

Jim began a scramble, calling farmers, offering to lease their land – even buy their summer crops – to find a suitable venue. The farmers, however, had contracted their land to food companies, obligated to produce the crop.

“I told my brother how discouraged I was,” Jim said. “I thought this was it; we can’t find a place.”

Phil, however, encouraged Jim, insisting that if God wants it to happen, he’ll provide the land … for free.

Then, Jim explained, “The last farmer on my list said, ‘Why not call Sam Yoder in Delaware? He has a good-sized farm.'”

In fact, Yoder had been hosting Christian concerts – small affairs for only a few dozen attendees – for years.

After giving Yoder a call, the Plack brothers visited the farmer’s property and found it perfect: higher and drier than the Maryland location and well-situated between two major highways.

Jim recalled, “When we met with Sam and showed him the schedule of artists, he about jumped out of skin.”

When it came time to negotiate the terms of the lease, the brothers asked how much it would cost.

Yoder’s price? One dollar.

“Another domino fell,” Jim explains. “The odds of all this talent on no deposit and the farm for $1? God is behind this, and he is going to make this happen.”

Why the call for a million?

At the heart of the miracle the Plack brothers are seeking is a pair of motivations that neither brother is bashful about proclaiming. Why try to gather a million Christians in one place?

“First and most important,” Jim told WND, “is to gather in praise, prayer and worship. In the Bible, the Jubilee only happened once every 50 years to give the land a rest. People who were indentured slaves were set free. The idea of praise and prayer is to pray for healing of our land.

“We’ve come a long way from being the nation our Founding Fathers, devout Christians, intended,” Plack said.

The second motivation is intrinsically tied to the healing sought in the first:

“One million candles lit in prayer,” Jim said, “sends a powerful message to government, judges – whoever is behind the push for political correctness – that here we are, we’re in large numbers. If Christians see their liberties and freedoms chipped away and do nothing about it, they have only themselves to blame for not speaking up.”

Phil added, “I would love this event to communicate to the leaders of government that, despite what they hear, America is still a Christian nation. Christian values are still important to American people. We want to do this to glorify and honor Jesus Christ, but also to be unified as believers, a testimony to the world.”

Still a third purpose, not one the brothers boast, but an important one nonetheless, will be accomplished by Jubileefest: the support of several other ministries and charities, including Crossway International, Daughters of Promise, Delaware Family Policy Council, Frontline Ministries, Global Breakthrough Ministry, Jews For Jesus, Jill’s House, Open Doors, Radiovision Christiana, Teen Challenge, Word of Life Fellowship, Inc. and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Jim told WND the list of beneficiaries and partnerships is still growing.

“Whether or not the million-candle prayer happens, it’s totally up to God,” Phil explained, “but if you do the math, at $30 apiece, that’s $30 million. But neither Jim nor I are getting rich from this. After all the artists and speakers are paid, the remaining money will be distributed to ministries around the country and around the world.”

Will Jubileefest really raise the million-Christian crowd? Some have been reported expressing doubt. Jim, however, simply expresses faith.

“The whole thing is committed to God; he’s going to have to make it happen,” Jim said. “It’s all about trusting: Do you or don’t you?”

Courtesy of at

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Controversy over great big roadside crosses

Posted by faithandthelaw on March 4, 2010

There’s something quintessentially American roadtrip-y about driving past those huge steel crosses. And, come to think of it, there’s something kinda Texan about it, too.

Texas is home to some pretty big crosses, including a 190-footer in Groome, along I-40 outside of Amarillo. There’s also a 100-foot cross with a chapel in Ballinger. And plenty more that passersby catch on cell phone cams.

Houston’s biggest is Sagemont Church’s 170-foot cross at I-45 and Highway 8. (It’s taller than the Statue of Liberty and was built that tall “Because the FAA would not let us build it to 250 feet tall. That’s why,” said the church’s pastor John Morgan, at its dedication a year ago.) Plus there’s the white-neon cross on the side of the St. Joseph Professional Building downtown. And plans for two more, up to 200 feet tall, along I-45. (Rev. Matt Tittle, a local Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger, was not a fan of their proposal to make Houston a city of crosses.)


From Coming King

But, turns out, the process for building these enormous crosses isn’t easy. Even though they’re on private land, zoning regulations or angry neighbors can cause a legal stir.

And that’s why a 77-foot-tall brown cross has been laying flat on a Texas hillside since November.

Neighbors filed suit to keep the Coming King Foundation in Kerrville, west of Austin and San Antonia, from erecting the central sculpture in its $7 million Christian religious garden, but they’ve come to an agreement that allows the cross to finally stand… once the organization builds a fence to keep neighbors from seeing it and situates a parking lot at its base. And raises more money to pay for all that.

“Other churches have called us and shared similar situations,” said Ryan Huff, a trustee and office manager for Coming King. “There’s always the possibility (that people will respond negatively), but we’re at peace with it. It’s God’s timing, and we’ll trust him.”

The organization says the cross, which will go up as soon as it raises about $150,000 to cover final costs, will pioneer “eye-gate evangelism,” reaching out to those who drive past. Many churches that have also erected giant crosses see it as a way to counter trashy billboards for gentlemen’s clubs.

Click the image below to check out some of the country’s largest crosses:


Courtesy of

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