Acton Institute Powerblog

Houston Mayor to Pastors: On Second Thought, Let’s Forget About Those Subpoenas

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anniseparkerEarlier this month the city of Houston sent out a subpoena to five area pastors demanding to see:

All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.

Houston mayor Annise Parker even appeared to support the measure, saying on her Twitter account, “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?”

But after a national outcry — that included hundreds of Bibles being sent to her office — the mayor has decided to change her position. Today she announced she’s withdrawing the subpoenas:

“After much contemplation and discussion, I am directing the city legal department to withdraw the subpoenas issued to the five Houston pastors who delivered the petitions, the anti-HERO petitions, to the city of Houston and who indicated that they were responsible for the overall petition effort,” said Parker.

The mayor made the announcement Wednesday during a press conference.

“It is extremely important to me to protect our Equal Rights Ordinance from repeal, and it is extremely important to me to make sure that every Houstonian knows that their lives are valid and protected and acknowledged,” Parker said. “We are going to continue to vigorously defend our ordiance against repeal efforts.”

The ordinance she is referring to is the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which the Houston City Council passed this summer. HERO extended protections against discrimination to cover homosexuality and transgenderism. Many local residents, including some pastors in the area, opposed the ordinance and supported a citizen initiative to have the council either repeal the bill or place it on the ballot for voters to decide.

Although the initiative was certified by the City Secretary, the mayor and city attorney threw out the petition claiming it was invalid. This sparked a lawsuit by the initiative supporters, Woodfill v. Parker. The city’s attorneys subpoenaed a number of area pastors, demanding to see what they preach from the pulpit and to examine their communications with their church members and others concerning the city council’s actions. Some of the pastors who received the subpoena were not even involved in the initiative.

The mayor deserves some credit for withdrawing the subpoenas before the judge in the case threw them out. But as Erik Stanley of Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal firm defending the pastors, notes, the subpoenas were “only one element of this disgraceful episode.”

“The subpoena threat has been withdrawn but the mayor and the city should now do the right thing and allow the people of the Houston to decide whether to repeal the ordinance,” says Stanley. From her press conference today, it’s obvious Mayor Parker isn’t going to back down on that point. But maybe the court will side with the people of Houston over the “public servants” who refuse to allow the citizens to have their say.

In the meantime, we can be grateful that government officials have been given a reminder that the American people won’t tolerate unfettered trampling of our religious freedoms.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).