After intense backlash from around the nation, the mayor of Houston has backed down and said five of the city's pastors do not have to turn over copies of their sermons on homosexuality and “gender identity” to the city.
The city had issued a subpoena for the pastors' sermons after five area clergy began an effort to repeal a city ordinance granting special rights to homosexuals and transgender people – such as giving them the same housing and employment status as racial minorities and allowing biological men to use female restrooms and locker rooms.
“After much contemplation and discussion, I am directing the city legal department to withdraw the subpoenas issued to the five Houston pastors,” Mayor Annise Parker, an open lesbian, said today.
The announcement comes one day after Parker held two meetings with local and national clergy outraged that the city had attempted to monitor religious speech protected by the First Amendment. “These are not political issues. These are issues that are relevant to the preaching of the Gospel,” Keith Tucci, pastor of Living Hope Church in Whitney, Pennsylvania, told the Houston Chronicle.
“I didn't do this to satisfy them,” Parker said. “I did it because [the subpoena] was not serving Houston.”
Parker added that the city was “going to continue to vigorously defend our ordinance against repeal efforts,” because it affirms and validates the homosexual and transgender lifestyle. “It is extremely important to me to make sure that every Houstonian knows that their lives are valid and protected and acknowledged,” she said.
“The mayor really had no choice but to withdraw these subpoenas, which should never have been served in the first place,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, said. “The First Amendment protects the right of pastors to be free from government intimidation and coercion of this sort.”
Clergy became entangled in the issue after city council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (dubbed “HERO”) in May. They led a petition effort to allow the city to vote on the measure, confident it would fail. Although they gathered enough signatures for the election to move forward, City Attorney David Feldman disqualified enough of the 5,199 pages of signatures to squash their efforts.
“The city of Houston arbitrarily threw out the valid signatures of thousands of voters,” Stanley said.
After citizens sued, the city issued a subpoena demanding that the pastors turn over “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
That ignited a firestorm across the nation. Mike Huckabee asked viewers of his Fox News show to mail Bibles to Parker. She said she received about 1,000 copies of the Scriptures.
Clergy organizations from around the country such as the Christian Defense Coalition converged on Houston this weekend to protest Parker and Feldman's attempt to use political leverage to monitor what is being said from the pulpit. Welton Gaddy of The Interfaith Alliance, a part of the Religious Left, sent a letter to Parker and Feldman saying their subpoena was “profoundly disturbing.”
“Voices from every point of the spectrum, Left to Right, recognize the city’s action as a gross abuse of power,” Stanley said.
Feldman responded to the criticism by saying, “It's unfortunate that [the subpoena effort] has been construed as some effort to infringe upon religious beliefs.” He and Parker denied knowledge of the subpoena.
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The ADF believes today's action shows the city discreetly acknowledges it went too far. “The city did this all because it is bent on pushing through its deeply unpopular ordinance at any cost,” Stanley said.
Those who believe in traditional values worry the other side will truly defend the law by any means necessary. Homosexual activists posted the names of the petition signers online, a move its supporters see as blatant intimidation. LGBT activists have broken the windows of churches that teach traditional sexual morality and some who publicly oppose the LGBT political agenda, like former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, have lost their livelihoods.
Yet the traditional majority around the nation says it is willing to persevere – beginning in Houston, where the ordinance is not yet in effect pending legal action.
“The subpoena threat has been withdrawn,” Stanley said, “but the mayor and the city should now do the right thing and allow the people of the Houston to decide whether to repeal the ordinance.”