Tags: Houston | Texas | Mayor Annise Parker | Sermons | Subpoenas

Houston Mayor Strikes Nerve; Texans Fight back

By Wednesday, 22 October 2014 11:44 AM Current | Bio | Archive

In a move that is anathema to religious liberty and freedom of speech, Houston, under Mayor Annise Parker’s direction, has issued wide-ranging subpoenas to five pastors who attempted to overturn the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance — HERO — an anti-discrimination law. HERO is also known as the “Bathroom Bill” because a provision allows transgender people to use either male or female restrooms, which the pastors opposed.

After HERO became law, the pastors helped gather more than 50,000 signatures to place the issue on a ballot referendum. Since only 17,000 signatures were necessary, it appeared Houstonians — not the mayor and city council — would ultimately decide the fate of the ordinance. Not so fast.

Even though Houston’s City Secretary certified the signatures, City Attorney David Feldman deemed 38,000 to be invalid, killing the referendum initiative. Not only do some legal experts contend Feldman acted without legal authority, but much of his reasoning is flawed, such as circulators having to be registered voters.

A lawsuit filed by several citizens challenging the city’s action led to subpoenas of massive scope, demanding privileged information from the pastors. According to the subpoenaed information included:
  • Anything related to Parker, Feldman, HERO or any HERO drafts, and any copies or drafts for the petition to repeal the ordinance.
  • Anything related to "the topics of equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity.”
  • Any language related to restroom access or "any discussion about whether or how HERO does or does not impact restroom access."
  • Communication with anyone at the religious rights group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has criticized the ordinance.
  • "All speeches, presentation, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor  Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by your or in your possession."
After heavy criticism, the mayor slightly revised the subpoenas, removing sermons, which means nothing since Parker acknowledged some could still be fair game.

Let’s analyze. None of the subpoenaed pastors are even party to the lawsuit against the city. Parker’s rationale, “We want the instructions on the petition process.”

In other words, how the preachers instructed their congregants regarding the petition drive. The mayor claims that if preachers are politicking from the pulpit, sermons and other communications are fair game.

Two problems. First, this case is about whether there are enough valid signatures to warrant a referendum. The pastor’s viewpoints are irrelevant. Second, one needs to define “politicking.” It’s true that a preacher advocating a particular candidate from the pulpit may jeopardize his church’s tax status. But there is nothing illegal about a religious organization advocating positions on issues.

That has been a time-honored tradition in America, and, no pun intended, thank God.

For example, the push to outlaw slavery was rooted in northern churches as pastors encouraged their flocks to support the abolitionist cause. Same goes for much of the impetus behind the civil rights movement.

America’s freedoms are supposed to prevent religious persecution by government.

The actions of Mayor Parker fly directly in the face of that.

Why is the mayor pushing these subpoenas? Does she have a hidden agenda?

One can reasonably conclude that it may be an attempt to intimidate religious leaders — who face jail time for contempt of court if they don’t comply — into accepting the radical agenda of a political ideologue hell-bent on social engineering.

In other words, flat-out political retribution.

The mayor should do the honorable thing, agree to the referendum. If it passes, great. If not, Parker should do what the people elected her to do: govern a world-class city, albeit one with many problems.

This case may set groundbreaking legal precedent.

If the mayor’s actions are upheld, America’s unique freedoms are in mortal danger. The door will be opened for more rights to be obliterated — and once opened, it will never close.

This isn’t a conservative or liberal issue, as its outcome will affect every American.

Anyone who thinks attacks on free speech and religious liberties are limited to one side of the political spectrum is dangerously misinformed. Just as those on the Right would be wise to accept the right to burn the flag or protest military funerals, no matter how tasteless, the left should be up in arms about this assault on liberties that allow us to express what we believe without fear of government intrusion.

Texas knows a thing or two about fighting oppressors and protecting rights. Here’s hoping they take the steer by the horns and throw the subpoenas right where they belong — in the trash.

Otherwise, start saying your prayers.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Freindly Fire Zone Media. Read more reports from Chris Freind — Click Here Now.


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Anyone who thinks attacks on free speech and religious liberties are limited to one side of the political spectrum is dangerously misinformed.
Houston, Texas, Mayor Annise Parker, Sermons, Subpoenas
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 11:44 AM
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