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Is Houston Still Targeting Pastors' Sermons?

Andrew Branch | WORLD News Service | Monday, November 10, 2014
Is Houston Still Targeting Pastors' Sermons?

Is Houston Still Targeting Pastors' Sermons?

Houston Mayor Annise Parker officially rescinded controversial subpoenas for five pastors who supported a lawsuit challenging an anti-bias ordinance she supports, but she’s still on the hunt for sermons and emails. 


Official court documents warn the mayor’s legal team may request more sermons and private correspondence, this time from two African-American pastors named as plaintiffs in the suit against the city. None of the five subpoenaed pastors were listed as plaintiffs to the lawsuit.


Opponents of an LGBT anti-bias policy adopted by the city council sued on Aug. 5 after Parker’s administration invalidated a referendum petition to place the ordinance on the November ballot. Lawyers for the city had given five pastors involved in the petition effort an Oct. 10 deadline to hand over sermons and electronic communications containing their opinions on homosexuality and gender identity. The mayor claimed the subpoenas were necessary to defend the city against the lawsuit scheduled for trial in January. 


“The city will move to compel documents from the plaintiffs who filed this lawsuit and who have refused to produce any documents in response to the city’s requests,” lawyers claimed in a court document filed Friday. The city’s lawyers pledge to refocus all of their pressure on the plaintiffs, rather than other petition organizers, according to the document. 


Before the controversial pastor subpoenas were submitted, the mayor’s lawyers on Aug. 29 filed a nearly identical demand for the plaintiffs. Andy Taylor, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, told me they refused and objected on similar religious liberty and First Amendment grounds. But that dispute didn’t make headlines.


“I didn’t raise a fuss about it, didn’t talk to the media or anything,” Taylor told me. “I just lodged my objections and figured the ball was in the city’s court.”


The plaintiffs’ order continues to explicitly require sermons and private communications containing opinions on homosexuality. That document has never been withdrawn, Taylor said, and it matches the original subpoena’s sermon demands. The mayor called those demands “stupid” during a city council meeting held after lawyers tweaked the subpoena wording. But Friday’s official request to withdraw the subpoenas defends the earlier document requests. 


“I have a hard time fathoming whether this is by design or the result of incompetence. Literally, I can’t tell which it is,” Taylor told me. “I have no idea what the mayor is trying to accomplish here.”


The mayor’s lawyers have not filed the official court motion to compel the pastors to provide documents, so the demand could be narrowed. But the mayor’s office declined to answer any questions about what its legal team might do.The mayor has maintained the subpoenas were never wrong and always relevant to the case. She decided to withdraw them only because people perceived it as a threat to religious liberty. 


“I don’t want to have a national debate about freedom of religion when my whole purpose is to defend a strong and wonderful and appropriate city ordinance against local attack,” Parker said last week. 


The document requests line up with the mayoral team’s now-public four-part plan to combat the petition organizers. Parker claims her opponents lied, thereby disqualifying the petition, when they claimed the ordinance allows men into women’s restrooms. But Houston’s own transgender community doesn’t dispute that claim. LGBT activists only argue that opponents lied by claiming bathrooms would become unsafe. Sexually predatory acts are still illegal, which will protect women from men who choose to use their bathrooms, they claim. 


During a nationally streamed church rally in Houston on Sunday, petition supporters maintained their claim that the mayor and her administration have assaulted their First Amendment rights to speech, religion, and freedom to petition government. They’re planning a post-election march on city hall to send a four-word message: “Let the people vote!” 



Courtesy: WORLD News Service


Photo: Houston Mayor Annise Parker


Photo courtesy: Wikipedia


Publication date: November 10, 2014