This summer Houston Mayor Annise Parker championed a so-called Equal Rights Ordinance which, among other changes, would force businesses to allow transgender residents’ to use whatever restroom they want, regardless of their biological sex.
In response, a citizen initiative was launched to have the council either repeal the bill or place it on the ballot for voters to decide. The mayor and city attorney defied the law and rejected the certification, so the initiative filed a lawsuit. In return, the city’s attorneys subpoenaed a number of area pastors.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the city demanded to see what these pastors were preaching from the pulpit and wanted to examine their communications with their church members and others concerning the city council’s actions.
“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “In this case, they have embarked upon a witch-hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it.”
“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” said ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions. Political and social commentary is not a crime; it is protected by the First Amendment.”
Texas law makes it clear that the discovery process in a legal proceeding “may not be used as a fishing expedition.” Houston’s city attorneys are certainly aware of this fact, so why are they seeking the sermons and communications of pastors who aren’t even involved in the lawsuit?
The apparent answer, as ADF notes, is that the Houston city government “has embarked upon a witchhunt.” They are trying to send a message to area pastors that criticism of city policies from the pulpit can result in their being dragged into court. This is a despicable display of government overreach and an attempt to stifle both religious freedom and political speech. If this violation of citizens rights isn’t checked in Houston, other cities will get the message that irrelevant legal actions can be used to harass church leaders who dare to challenge our “public servants.”