HOUSTON (Christian Examiner) -- The "Houston 5" and their lawyers resounded with a clear message the Sunday before mid-term elections: "Let the people vote!"
Three of the "Houston Five" as they have been called -- five ministry leaders who were subpoenaed for their part in a citizen petition drive calling for a voter referendum of a controversial human rights amendment -- spoke strongly, also, about oppression in their countries of origin and how they fear the same is happening in America.
Speaking before a crowd reported as 7,000 strong at the "iStandSunday" rally at Grace Community Church in Houston Nov. 2 -- with tens of thousands more joining a webcast from 800 churches from all 50 states -- the immigrants from Vietnam, Colombia, and Cuba shared of their struggles before coming to America and how that impacted their fight for religious liberty since being subpoenaed after opposing the Houston human rights ordinance.
In halting, heavily-accented English, Khanh Huynh, senior pastor of the Vietnamese Baptist Church in Houston said he was one of two million boat people who escaped Vietnam to seek refugee in America 31 years ago.
"I live in this nation because of God's immutable grace," Huynh told the crowd.
"People were dying to buy the freedom here -- freedom of speech and freedom of religion were among the first to be lost in Vietnam," he warned. "I am facing the same marching boot of tyranny right now where I live."
Huynh said he has fulfilled a vow he made to God then, that if he lived, he would spend the rest of his life spreading the Gospel.
"Right now that freedom has been threatened," the Vietnamese pastor said, indicating Houston's mayor is forwarding her own agenda.
"Very simply, let the people vote!" he said, a refrain repeated by each of the Houston 5.
A native of Colombia, Hernan Castano, pastor of Iglesia Rios de Aceite, said he is the son of parents who came from South America with a "dream to live in the nation of the free and the nation of the brave; with a dream that every vote counts; that dream that no signature will be ignored; the dream that every voice will be heard."
To resounding applause, Castano, who is director of Hispanic Church Development for the Houston Area Pastors Council, said he refuses to be marginalized by the mayor or any official.
"I stand here today with you that I may speak, preach, and teach with the issues that deal with society, the issues that the bible speaks about" Castano said, "that I will not be afraid to be in contempt, to be afraid or to be subpoenaed or to be intimidated. I stand here today so that no government will abuse the power that the people gave it, to come against the church."
The first words in the Bible are, "In the beginning," and the first words in the U.S. Constitution are, "We the people of the United States of America," Castano said.
"I tell the mayor of the city and the city attorney, 'Mayor, let the people vote!'"
With a pronounced accent, Magda Hermida, founder of Magda Hermida Ministries of Houston said she fears a police state similar to that which she and her husband left behind in Cuba 50 years ago.
"My husband and I left Castro's communist Cuba to seek freedom in the United States ... and thank God we found it here and we have been blessed by Him for almost 50 years," Hermida said.
"We use to lived in Cuba through a police state in which our possessions, our speech, our faith were monitored closely by the government with the fear of punishment if we say something or did something those in power didn't like," she continued. "We never thought we would see this happening that is now in this country here in Houston ... in our beloved America. ... But it is here and it is now."
Hermida said the mayor of Houston would like to monitor the words of pastors, like in the "police state in Cuba."
"We cannot allow this now or forever," Hermida said. "My message to Mayor Parker and city authorities is simple ... 'Let the people vote.'"
Willie Davis, senior pastor of MacGregor Palm Community Baptist Church in Houston, who was on the platform with the Houston 5, joked that when he was not subpoenaed he felt "unwanted" because he had been very involved in the process all along.
"All of those united and joined together made it very clear to me as an African American ... how can you call something equal when it divides and how can you call something right, when it's all wrong," Davis said.
"We didn't have a problem in Houston until this equal rights order was written. It created a problem and I'm offended that that mayor and the city attorney all but fashioned something that divided our city; that made it a division that was not necessary," David said.
He said he is "offended by this ordinance" because supporters try to make it seem that "it piggy backs on the 1964 Civil Rights Act ... [and it] has nothing to do with this ordinance."
"The mayor and city council ought to be ashamed of themselves," Davis said. "Let's keep standing ... God bless you and let the people vote."