Annise Parker, the openly gay mayor of Houston, is cracking down on churches that are opposing “HERO,” the latest city ordinance that forbids discrimination against homosexuals. She has issued subpoenas of pastors’ sermons to see if they are preaching against the bill, which could be construed as politicking from the pulpit, which in turn would endanger congregations’ tax-exempt status. See Bryan Preston, who quotes the mayor’s tweet: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?-A.”
Some pastors are refusing to send in their sermons, citing their First Amendment rights. But Lutheran pastor Chris Thoma is calling on pastors to deluge Houston’s city hall with sermons.
The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.
“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christina Holcomb said in a statement. “The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”
ADF, a nationally-known law firm specializing in religious liberty cases, is representing five Houston pastors. They filed a motion in Harris County court to stop the subpoenas arguing they are “overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious.”
“Political and social commentary is not a crime,” Holcomb said. “It is protected by the First Amendment.”
The subpoenas are just the latest twist in an ongoing saga over the Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance. The law, among other things, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa. The city council approved the law in June.
The Houston Chronicle reported opponents of the ordinance launched a petition drive that generated more than 50,000 signatures – far more than the 17,269 needed to put a referendum on the ballot.
However, the city threw out the petition in August over alleged irregularities.
After opponents of the bathroom bill filed a lawsuit the city’s attorneys responded by issuing the subpoenas against the pastors.
The pastors were not part of the lawsuit. However, they were part of a coalition of some 400 Houston-area churches that opposed the ordinance. The churches represent a number of faith groups – from Southern Baptist to non-denominational.
“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,” said ADF attorney Erik Stanley. “This is designed to intimidate pastors.”