First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Houston, where Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is convinced pastors may be literally imprisoned for opposing marriage equality.
Indeed, that's exactly what the far-right senator said this week to David Brody, a political reporter for TV preacher Pat Robertson's cable network.
In an exclusive interview with The Brody File, Senator Ted Cruz says pastors being hauled off to jail by the government for preaching against homosexuality is a "real risk" in the future. "I think that is a real risk," Cruz tells me. "Some in the media ridicule that threat saying there is no danger of the government coming after pastors. That is the usual response." But he adds: "The specter of government trying to determine if what pastors preach from the pulpit meets with the policy views or political correctness of the governing authorities, that prospect is real and happening now."
In the same interview, Cruz was asked if we may "soon go through a period where pastors are hauled off to jail for a hate crime because they are speaking for traditional marriage." The Texas Republican replied, "I think that is a real risk."
In reality, that's not even close to what's "happening now" and there is no such "risk." In fact, under the First Amendment, the scenario Cruz is warning against simply cannot happen.
As Right Wing Watch explained this week, at issue is a case out of Houston, where social conservatives are trying to repeal the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. Pro-bono lawyers defending the existing policy have arguably been overzealous, subpoenaing materials from local pastors, but city officials have criticized the move, which is unlikely to fare well in the courts. [Update: Carlos Maza has more on the Houston controversy today.]
But for the religious right, the controversy itself has become a rallying cry -- proof, they say, that supporters of gay rights will try to exploit the law to silence, and perhaps even imprison, conservative ministers.
The fact remains, however, that pastors have always been free to speak out on moral issues of the day, and this constitutionally protected speech will always be protected. The notion of the government "coming after pastors" based on sermons about marriage sounds like a dystopian novel that might appeal to Pat Robertson's viewers, but it's certainly not "happening now," and under the American system, it never will.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The fall of a megachurch pastor: "Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who has been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego that alienated his most devoted followers, resigned from his Seattle church Wednesday (Oct. 15), according to a document obtained by RNS. The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll's resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation."
* An interesting case out of California: "An atheist who once spent 100 days in prison because he refused to enter a religion-based rehab program has been awarded a sizable settlement for his unjust treatment" (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* The Vatican this week generated considerable international attention, saying that gay people "have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community." Soon after, however, BuzzFeed noted that church leaders circulated a new English translation of their report, removing landmark language on "welcoming homosexual persons," and replacing it with the less inclusive phrase "providing for homosexual persons."