The Texas legislature is poised to take up proposed legislation that would shield sermons from government interference.
A church pastor's sermon is free speech but not necessarily protected from government interference. Five pastors in Houston found that out the hard way, and state lawmakers will now take up the issue in a new legislation.
Senate Bill 24 is being called the Sermon Safeguard Bill. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says he is planning to push the legislation that is designed to keep messages preached in church from finding their way into court around social and political issues that shape our society.
Whether it’s the theology of Conservative Evangelicals like Pastor Robert Jeffress or the Liberation Theology of pastors like Freddie Haynes, church and state sometimes collide.
“None of the prophets that religious traditions honor would be welcome today if we're going to have some kind of test as to what’s okay to say and what’s not okay to say,” said Haynes with the Friendship West Baptist Church.
In 2014, Houston’s former mayor attempted to subpoena sermons of pastors who preached against that city's equal rights ordinance.
The Texas legislature will take up Sermon Safeguard Bill that would prevent sermons from being subpoenaed.
“If we let the government begin the process of trying to control speech in the church, that is a dangerous step — not only for the state of Texas but for our country,” Patrick said.
“We have protesters. We have people who hate what we do,” said Jeffress with First Baptist Dallas. “But guess what? The first amendment protects all kinds of speech — even biblical speech that people find offensive.”
Although Haynes at times has been vocal about social issues, he says the real argument is about religious liberty.
“We don’t want to become a police state where we are policing what and how people of faith express themselves,” he said.
The pastors with somewhat different theological views see eye to eye on the need to safeguard sermons.
“No church ought to be compelled to deliver over their sermons to the government,” Jeffress said.
“When you think of the values that had everything to do with the founding of this country, religious freedom was a part of that,” Haynes said. “A huge part of that, I’d dare suggest.”