HOUSTON — Officials in Houston, Texas are seeking to obtain copies of sermons delivered by several area pastors after a lawsuit was filed by unrelated Christian leaders whose initiative surrounding a recently passed “bathroom bill” was rejected by city officials.
As previously reported, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, an open lesbian, had promoted an “Equal Rights Ordinance” earlier this year designed to quell any discrimination in America’s fourth largest city—including any discrimination on the basis of “gender identity.” Most opponents were especially concerned about the “Public Accommodations” section of the ordinance, which would allow men to use women’s restrooms, and vice versa, if they identity with the opposite sex.
“It shall be unlawful for any place of public accommodation or any employee or agent thereof to intentionally deny any person entry to any restroom, shower room, or similar facility if that facility is consistent with and appropriate to that person’s expression of gender identity,” the ordinance states.
The only stipulation, according to the ordinance, is that people who use the opposite sex’s facilities must dress, behave, and clothe themselves in a way that is “consistent with the gender designation of the facility the person attempt[s] to access.”
In June, Houston City Council passed the bill, resulting in the creation of an initiative signed by area residents who requested that either City Council repeal the ordinance or that it place the matter on the ballot for voters to decide. According to WND, over 55,000 signatures were submitted, and City Secretary Anna Russell confirmed in writing that 17,846 were acceptable. The minimum required by the city for a referendum is 17,269. Although Russell acknowledged that the submission was over nearly 600 votes about the minimum, Mayor Parker and the city attorney rejected it.
In August, those behind the initiative, which included area pastors, filed a lawsuit against the city over its rejection of the signatures and the referendum in general. Now, in response to the lawsuit, attorneys for the City of Houston have subpoenaed several area pastors not a party to the lawsuit, and have issued discovery requests demanding copies of their sermons, as well as other communications, to see if they have ever spoken against the city or the ordinance.
“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” said ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb in a press release issued Monday about the matter. “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.”
ADF has now filed a motion in court to stop the City from scrutinizing the speech of area pastors.
“The message is clear: oppose the decisions of city government, and drown in unwarranted, burdensome discovery requests,” the brief accompanying the motion states. “These requests, if allowed, will have a chilling effect on future citizens who might consider circulating referendum petitions because they are dissatisfied with ordinances passed by the City Council. Not only will the nonparty pastors be harmed if these discovery requests are allowed, but the people will suffer as well. The referendum process will become toxic and the people will be deprived of an important check on city government provided them by the Charter.”
“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,” added ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “In this case, they have embarked upon a witch-hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it.”