Saturday, October 18, 2014

Houston Narrows Subpoenas, But Pastors Say Not Enough

The city of Houston, Texas announced yesterday that it has filed narrowed subpoenas against five pastors in a lawsuit against it challenging rejection of referendum petition signatures.  At issue is an attempt by opponents of the city's Equal Rights Ordinance to obtain its repeal.  Much of the opposition-- particularly to provisions on transgender rights-- was led by clergy. Originally the city issued broad subpoenas calling for all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to the Ordinance or issues surrounding it. (See prior posting.) The new subpoenas omit any reference to sermons, but still seek information from 5 pastors who were leaders in the referendum petition drive on the petition gathering process. According to Mayor Annise Parker:
This is not about what they may be preaching from the pulpit.  It is about proving that the petition gathering process organized by these pastors did not meet the requirements of the City Charter.  This information is critical to proving the city’s contention that the petition was ineligible for placement on the ballot and that the organizers knew this.
Alliance Defending Freedom (representing the pastors) still objects to the narrowed subpoenas, stating in a press release:
The city of Houston still doesn’t get it. It thinks that by changing nothing in its subpoenas other than to remove the word ‘sermons’ that it has solved the problem. That solves nothing. Even though the pastors are not parties in this lawsuit, the subpoenas still demand from them 17 different categories of information – information that encompasses speeches made by the pastors and private communications with their church members. As we have stated many times, the problem is the subpoenas themselves; they must be rescinded entirely. The city must respect the First Amendment and abandon its illegitimate mission to invade the private communications of pastors for the purpose of strong-arming them into silence in a lawsuit that concerns nothing more than the authenticity of citizen petitions.