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).


  • Marc Vander Maas

    “The mayor deserves some credit for withdrawing the subpoenas before the judge in the case threw them out.”

    That’s a very generous statement, Joe, considering that what she actually deserves is to be run out of office on a tidal wave of outrage, never to have any hope of holding political office in America again.

    • Yep, I think that’s what she deserves too. But I do think she deserves credit for being smart enough to know when to cut her losses. Too many politicians would have stuck with this embarrassment all the way to the courthouse.

  • Leigh

    The HERO bill extended protections against discrimination to cover homosexuality and transgenderism, as the article states.

    So would it be safe to assume that, in “protecting religious freedom”, there are those Houstonians who believe that the LGBT community should be fair game for unbridled discrimination, i.e., fired from their jobs solely because they are LGBT, thrown out of their apartments solely because they are LGBT, refused medical treatment solely because they are LGBT, and beaten to within an inch of their life solely because they are LGBT?

    • David Holland

      No, they dont have a right to mistreat anyone, They do have a right to discuss it if they want. Lets be honest, people rent to who ever they want and they discriminate all the time based on their own preferences. That includes races, sex and age and sexuality. Unless you own a 10 unit building or more, no one is ever going to notice who a house is rented to over the years

      • Leigh

        “No, they dont have a right to mistreat anyone.”
        Glad to hear you say that.

    • I think you’re confusing the limitation on the state and those on individuals. The state’s role is to prevent citizens from committing fraud, theft, extortion, kidnapping, murder, etc. against others. The state must treat all citizens without discrimination in order to be just; that is the meaning of the rule of law.

      While citizens can’t commit the crimes mentioned above, they are free to discriminate against others as a result of the freedom of association. The state can’t choose who it associates with but should respect the citizens’ right of association.

      Just as the state can’t remain just while preventing homosexuals from associating with each other, it is also unjust when it prevents people from discriminating against homosexuals in their association. The right of association is one of the fundamental human rights, even though most people like to pretend it doesn’t exist.

      Now discrimination against homosexuals may be immoral, but like adultery it should never be illegal.

  • David Holland

    Based on her arguments, all Black Churches should have their sermons inspected by the government. There is a lot of liberal politics going around in the Churches

  • Michki067

    Take that!

  • PalaceGuard

    Anyone know why Msgr. Charles Pope’s blog has apparently been razed from the face of the earth? I was trying to read a post of his about the Houston incident being a threat to religious liberty, and it’s been coming back “This webpage is not available”.

  • Leigh

    Beatings, perhaps. I’ll give you that one. However, with regard to unjust firings and housing, I see a huge Pandora’s box opening here. But if you’re ok with it, then fine.

    • Jump

      I think that’s a significant (and respectable!) admission that we have laws on the books to protect people from beatings. What that means is that there is no justification for HERO on such grounds. As far as unjust firings and housing, I’m not sure of the Pandora’s box you’re referring to.

      • Leigh

        Well, just imagine the abject horror if employers and landlords were allowed to terminate employees and throw people out of their apartments solely based on their religion. That’s the Pandora’s Box I’m referring to. Discrimination against anyone for any reason is abhorrent.

        • Marc Vander Maas

          “Discrimination against anyone for any reason is abhorrent.”
          So when I, as a parent, encourage my kids to choose their friends wisely and to not hang around with kids who drink, smoke, and otherwise violate the law, I’m engaging in “abhorrent discrimination”?

        • Jump

          “Well, just imagine the abject horror if employers and landlords were allowed to terminate employees and throw people out of their apartments solely based on their religion.”

          I am not yet sure where I land on this one. However, I have a hard time imagining the abject horror you believe would obtain. After all, the society in question is one with a free market governed by the rule of law. If a landlord does not allow someone to rent an apartment because of something as irrelevant as a religious view is to “good tenanthood,” guess what happens in a society like ours? All other things being equal, he gives an advantage to his competitors. That is, the landlord who rejects a perfectly good tenant is thereby at a disadvantage in the market compared to a landlord who accepts such a tenant. I mean, if I am a landlord in need of apartments to fill, I would love to have a benighted landlord like that across the street to reliably send me a stream of perfectly good tenants!

          I am open to being wrong about whether such discrimination should be legal (even if it is immoral, which is a different question). But I think a proponent of your view needs to explain how the abject horror comes about. Such an explanation would need to be consistent with what our economic knowledge tells us about long-run, aggregated, human behavior. I am skeptical that one could articulate a very plausible scenario in which whatever bad stuff you have in mind occurs, assuming a free and rule-of-law governed (and not trivially, virtuous) society.

          • Leigh

            Well, since conservatives won in a big way last night, with some really radical conservatives mixed in there, you can look forward to your discriminatory, religiously “moral”-based utopia coming to fruition. This country will no longer be safe for anyone but far-right-wing, white, male, wealthy, Christian radicals. If you’re a woman, if you’re a minority, if you’re poor, if you’re a senior, life will become very very untenable and possibly even dangerous.

            I’m outta here, have a great day.

  • Jump

    @disqus_WuTu9sbMPl:disqus What Marc Vander Maas did is falsify your claim, but he is not thereby logically committed to equating those two situations. Your claim was falsified by simply showing a case in which discrimination against some person for some reason is permissible, and even moreso, may be an obligation. But THAT observation does not commit him to anything more than that, let alone to what you attribute to him. Discrimination per se is morally neutral. You have to add more to the situation to make it just or unjust. What this point shows is that the action in this whole debate has nothing to do with whether something is discriminatory or not–but with whether it’s just or not.

    • Leigh

      Your discriminatory far-right-wing christofascist utopia looks like it’s coming to fruition as of last night. Congrats. The sane and the rational are outta here before they’re stoned at the village gate. Buh-bye.

      • We prefer “Cristal facsists.” Cheers!

        • Marc Vander Maas

          And just for kicks and giggles, here’s a walk down Fair Housing Memory Lane. God forbid that adults living in a free society be allowed to make decisions about whom they prefer to live with.

      • Marc Vander Maas

        Your cartoonish overreaction is funny.

      • Jump

        @disqus_WuTu9sbMPl:disqus, Aside from the fact that it’s your view, not mine, that is utterly brutal, inhumane and totalitarian in principle (even though I have little doubt you are a decent enough person that you wouldn’t want to actually bite the bullet), I give our conversation a disappointing two-out-of-five stars. Here is what I think of it:

        You: XYZ.
        Me: No, not-XYZ. And here are the reasons I think not-XYZ.
        You: XYZ.
        Me: Well, no, you see, I just gave an argument against that, so you can’t just keep marching the troops on and remain rational in holding your view.
        You: XYZ, you devils! Also, you probably hate puppies.

        Kidding aside, the arguments and evidence are all that matters. Let’s stick with those.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    No, I’m pointing out that it’s absurd to claim that “discrimination against anyone for any reason is abhorent.” You might want to be a bit more discriminating in your choice of language.