The city of Houston has issued subpoenas to a group of pastors requesting any sermons they've written that cover the subject of homosexuality, gender identity, or mention of Annise Parker, the city's first openly lesbian mayor.
The subpoenas came after pastors protested against Houston's new non-discrimination ordinance that the city council passed in June which, among other clauses related to sexuality and gender identity, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa in an effort to protect transgender rights, according to Fox News
The pastors were among the opponents of the law
who gathered 50,000 signatures for a repeal measure that was ultimately thrown out on technicalities. Opponents have since launched a lawsuit which appears to have prompted the subpoenas.
"The city's subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented," attorney Christiana Holcomb of Alliance Defending Freedom
, a firm representing five of the pastors, told Fox News. "The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions."
The organization filed a motion in court to try to stop the subpoenas, claiming they are "overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious," and in violation of freedom of speech.
The Mayor's office has refused to explain why it was requesting the sermons, according to Fox News, but an ADF attorney suggested that the city was looking to smear the pastors by searching for evidence that they are bigoted against homosexuals.
"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, according to Fox News. "This is designed to intimidate pastors."
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement he is "simply stunned by the sheer audacity" of the subpoenas.
"A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque or any other place of worship. The pastors of Houston should tell the government that they will not trample over consciences, over the First Amendment and over God-given natural rights," he said.
"The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever."
The Rev. Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, said he believed the city was breaking the law.
"We are not going to yield our First Amendment rights," he told Fox News. "This is absolutely a complete abuse of authority."
Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, called on pastors across the country to rally behind the Houston ministers, according to Fox News.
"The state is breaching the wall of separation between church and state," Perkins told Fox News. "Pastors need to step forward and challenge this across the country.
"I'd like to see literally thousands of pastors after they read this story begin to challenge government authorities — to dare them to come into their churches and demand their sermons."
He added that the city's move was "obscene" and said it "should not be tolerated."
The pastors told Fox News that they do not intend to comply with the subpoena. Failure to comply could result in a "fine or confinement, or both," according to Fox News.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz blasted the subpoenas, calling the move "shocking and shameful"
"For far too long, the federal government has led an assault against religious liberty, and now, sadly, my hometown of Houston is joining the fight," Cruz said in a statement. "This is wrong. It's unbefitting of Texans, and it's un-American. The government has no business asking pastors to turn over their sermons."
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