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Houston Tells Pastors to Turn Over Sermons or Face Contempt Charges
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Houston Tells Pastors to Turn Over Sermons or Face Contempt Charges

Summary: The mayor of Houston has demanded that pastors turn over the content of their sermons after churches protested a recent non-discrimination law.

Fox News reports the city of Houston has served subpoenas on a group of pastors which state that they must disclose any sermons that deal with gender identity, homosexuality, or Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly lesbian mayor of Houston. If these church leaders do not provide their sermons as mandated by the subpoena, they will face contempt of court charges.


Christina Holcomb, an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney, commented, “The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented. The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom is a law firm known across the country for its work in religious liberty cases. It will represent five Houston pastors, and has filed a motion in Harris County court to quash the subpoenas, arguing that they are “overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious.”

Holcomb added, “Political and social commentary is not a crime. It is protected by the First Amendment.”

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The city of Houston has been tangled in a web of drama lately. A new non-discrimination ordinance would allow men to use ladies’ restrooms, and vice versa. Other behaviors would also be allowed under the new law, which was approved in June.

Opponents of the non-discrimination ordinance started a petition drive that gained over 50,000 signatures, which by far surpassed the 17,269 required to add a referendum to the ballot. Due to alleged irregularities, the city tossed out the petition in August.

The subpoenas to the pastors came into play shortly after opponents of the bathroom bill sued the city. City attorneys then issued the subpoenas. The pastors were not part of the group that sued over the new ordinance, but they were part of a coalition of roughly 400 churches that opposed it. Denominations in the groups vary from Southern Baptist to non-denominational.

Erik Stanley, another attorney with ADF, stated, “City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother” overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge. This is designed to intimidate pastors.”

As for Mayor Parker, she remained tight-lipped as to why she wants to see the sermons. Stanley assumes it is because Parker wants to “publicly shame” the ministers, and represent them as homosexual-hating bigots.

Steve Riggle, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church, is one of the pastors who was served. He was ordered to produce all speeches and sermons involving the mayor, gender identity, and homosexuality. In addition, he must turn over “all communications with members of [his] congregation” that involve the non-discrimination statute. Riggle said, “This is an attempt to chill pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day. The mayor would like to silence our voice. She’s a bully.”

Reverend Dave Welch, the executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, scoffed at the subpoena. “We’re not afraid of this bully. We’re not intimidated at all.” He added that Houston was breaking the law as well. “We are not going to yield our First Amendment rights. This is absolutely a complete abuse of authority.”

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said support for the Houston ministers is essential. “The state is breaching the wall of separation between church and state. Pastors need to step forward and challenge this across the country. I’d like to see literally thousands of pastors after they read this story begin to challenge government authorities—to dare them to come into their churches and demand their sermons.”

Perkins called the actions “obscene” and said “…they should not be tolerated. This is a shot across the bow of the church.”

Although they face the risk of fines or even being thrown into a jail cell, most pastors said they will not comply with the subpoena.

Pastor Welch compared the events to the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto, which was fought in what is now Harris County, Texas. The battle defined the Texas Revolution. Welch explained, “This is the San Jacinto moment for traditional family. This is the place where we stop the LGBT assault on the freedom to practice our faith.”

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