In more big news about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the city is taking an interesting new turn in its case. Here’s more on the perplexing news from Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle…
Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists who have sued the city.
Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldman wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
City attorneys issued subpoenas last month as part of the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “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.”
The subpoenas were issued to pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance: Dave Welch, Hernan Castano, Magda Hermida, Khanh Huynh and Steve Riggle. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization known for its role in defending same-sex marriage bans, filed a motion Monday on behalf of the pastors seeking to quash the subpoenas, and in a press announcement called it a “witch hunt.”
The city’s lawyers will face a high bar for proving the information in the sermons is essential to their case, said Charles Rhodes, a South Texas College of Law professor. The pastors are not named parties in the suit, and the “Church Autonomy Doctrine” offers fairly broad protections for internal church deliberations, he said.
When asked about the decision to subpoena the sermons in her weekly press conference, Mayor Parker immediately distanced herself from the decision, saying she knew nothing about it…
One word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read, and I’m villified coast to coast… it’s a normal day at the office for me. But you’re going to have to ask the City Attorney that question.
There’s no question that the wording was overly broad… It should be clarified and will be clarified. People are rightly concerned if a government entity tries to inhibit, in any way, religious speech. That is not the intent.
Attorney Feldman later responded, and basically echoed the Mayor’s words. Both chalk it up to a document that they never read before issue, trusting pro bono lawyers not employed by the city to construct the subpoena.
This is what the Mayor said on Wednesday morning. But it seems in direct contradiction to what the Mayor tweeted on Tuesday night, saying the sermons are “fair game” and giving further fuel to the media firestorm…
If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?-A
— Annise Parker (@AnniseParker) October 15, 2014
One needs only to look at the process by which the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was passed to see that both sides were treated with fairness and respect, even when they didn’t always deserve it. So many in the news media seem to be rushing to the defense of the Houston Area Pastor Council, but failing to mention all of the lies and deceitful practices that they have carried out. Just because these pastors claim to be men and women of the cloth does not mean that they are always doing God’s work. They are the ones spreading hate and division, and deserve to be appropriately scrutinized for their actions.
But appropriate scrutiny can be well exercised without having to subpoena sermons shared with their congregations, as Feldman already stated in the press conference. Much of that information has already been compiled by those working to protect the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, and does not need to be extended to direct sacred practices.
Many of the people feigning complete and total outrage against the Mayor are the ones that have hated her since day one. That’s not going to change anytime soon. But what can change is that the city makes sure that in its effort to defend the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, they do not isolate the many religious groups within the law’s broad community of support. The subpoena was cause for legitimate concern, and now that Parker and Feldman have promised to redact the wording to exclude sermons, leave the issue where it is, and make sure that they correct it. Just like in May, it’s time to practice dignity and common sense on both sides.
(photo credit: Houston Chronicle)