Under the direction of Mayor Annise Parker, Houston’s first openly lesbian mayor, the City of Houston has launched an attack on area pastors’ First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion.
In a whirlwind of recent developments, with subpoenas, the mayor first demanded that five local Christian pastors relinquish sermon outlines and other private communications related to the mayor or the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
Then, after these demands began to receive national media exposure, the mayor and the Houston City Attorney began to backpedal, with later statements to reporters expressing that the language of the original mandate was “too broad,” and “it should have been clarified.”
According to the amended blanket subpoena, city officials now simply require that any of the pastors’ “speeches” related to HERO, or a petition to repeal it, must be relinquished for their review.
It would be interesting to know how the city would differentiate between “sermons” and “speeches.” In fact, the subpoena still requires that 17 different classifications of the pastors’ communications must be submitted.
It should be noted that just a day before her last corrective statement, Parker tweeted that “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.”

After only three days had passed by since that social media comment, the Houston Chronicle recorded the mayor as saying, “We don’t need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston, and it was never the intention of the City of Houston to intrude on any matters of faith or to get between a pastor and their parishioners.”
The origin of this battle has been centered upon the passage of Parker’s HERO ordinance, also known as the “Bathroom Bill,” that would allow individuals who claim to more closely identify with the opposite sex to use the public restrooms of their choice.
Apparently, city officials are angered that a voter lawsuit was filed by Houston citizens against the city after a baseless attempt of officials to invalidate the majority of 50,000 signatures of a petition aimed at repealing the HERO ordinance.
The city’s anger was also kindled against these five pastors, when they received word that the pastors had actively encouraged parishioners and citizens to sign the petition.
It seems to make no difference to the mayor’s office that the pastors have never been involved in the lawsuit.
These pastors have thus far expressed no intention to relinquish their sermons or other communications; and their stance is backed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), whose attorneys have filed a motion in a Texas court to stop the subpoena.
Other organizations, including Texas Values, Family Research Council, and the American Family Association, have also expressed their support for the pastors and outrage at the intrusive subpoenas.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz have also expressed outrage at the city’s actions. At a rally in support of the pastors, Cruz stated, “Caesar has no jurisdiction over the pulpit. When you subpoena one pastor, you subpoena every pastor.”
To many who are following this situation, it seems quite evident that the City of Houston is not only in violation of the Federal Constitution, but also the Texas State Constitution’s clauses related to freedom of speech and freedom of religious practice.
It’s also clear that this is the sort of abuse of power Americans everywhere should come to expect when representatives of special interest groups rise to positions of power that they then use to dictate which individuals’ rights really matter.
At least in Houston, such discriminating forces are not getting their way without a fight. Hopefully, this is a fight that many more will be willing to repeatedly fight across the nation–because these types of situations aren’t going away any time soon.
Photo credit: Ed Schipul (Flickr)