HOUSTON — A group of Texas pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed last year in the midst of a lawsuit over a petition seeking to repeal Houston “Bathroom Bill” have filed suit against the city’s mayor, alleging a violation of their religious freedom.
As previously reported, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, an open lesbian, had promoted an “Equal Rights Ordinance” in 2014 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, was 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.”
Last 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 2014, 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. As a result, attorneys for the City of Houston subpoenaed several area pastors not a party to the lawsuit, and issued discovery requests demanding “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the ordinance], the petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity…”
Attorneys for the pastors in turn filed a motion to stop the city from scrutinizing the speech of area pastors, and were successful in causing the city to alter its demands. Last week, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Houston officials must either repeal the city’s “Bathroom Bill” or place it on the November ballot for a vote.
Now, the pastors who were the subject of the city’s discovery requests have filed suit against Houston Mayor Annise Parker for “trampl[ing] on the rights of one million Houston citizens” through the subpoena requests.
Plaintiffs include F.N. Williams, Sr., of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church; Hernan Castano, director of Hispanic Church Development for the Houston Area Pastor Council; Magda Hermida of Magda Hermida Ministries; and Khanh Huynh of Vietnamese Baptist Church.
“Parker requested a long list of documents and communications,” the lawsuit states. “Among them were ‘all speeches, presentations, or sermons’ related to the so-called Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and ‘all communications with members of your congregation’ regarding ‘HERO’ and the Citizen Referendum Petition.”
Parker has dubbed the legal challenge a political move.
“This new lawsuit is not about civil rights or religious freedom. It’s about politics,” she wrote in a statement. “It is being waged by a small group that wants to take Houston backward instead of moving it forward. I respect the pastors’ right to use our legal process how they see fit, but their energy would be better invested in making sure Houston remains a welcoming, inclusive city that does not discriminate.”