Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city, has issued subpoenas requiring a group of pastors who were part of a petition drive viewed by some as anti-LGBT to turn over all of their sermons dealing with homosexuality or Parker for scrutiny. The Alliance Defending Freedom, which has filed a motion to block the subpoenas, calls the move a Big Brother-esque “inquisition” and an attempt by Parker to publicly shame the ministers and portray them as anti-gay bigots.
“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.”
“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” said ADF attorney Christina Holcomb in a statement. “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.”
The five pastors whose sermons have been subpoenaed were part of a petition drive against a “non-discrimination” ordinance passed by the city in June that includes allowing men to use the ladies room and vice versa. Though the petitioned earned over 50,000 signatures, the city tossed it out. Todd Starnes reports:
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.
ADF, known nationally for taking on religious liberty cases, called the city’s actions “overboard, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious.”
When Starnes attempted to contact City Hall for a comment, he says all he received was “a terse reply” from the mayor’s director of communications Janice Evans, who said, “We don’t comment on litigation.”
One of the pastors named in the subpoena, Rev. Dave Welch, insisted they would not be intimidated by the “bully” mayor: “We are not going to yield our First Amendment rights,” Welch told Starnes. ‘This is absolutely a complete abuse of authority.”
Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, warned that the “obscene” actions by Houston’s mayor was a “shot across the bow of the church,” and called for unified pushback from pastors across the country.
UPDATE: Wednesday morning Mayor Parker defended her subpoena in a tweet, declaring, "If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game":