Houston subpoenas local pastors for their sermons

posted at 5:08 am on October 15, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

The city of Houston has fought a pitched battle to enforce its equal-rights ordinance, but in an ironic twist, they may find themselves afoul of the First Amendment for doing so. The ordinance has come under fire from a number of quarters, but perhaps none more determined than Christian pastors who see the law as a threat to their ability to preach. They have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the law, and city attorneys in turn demonstrated exactly why they feared this in the first place:

Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists that have sued the city.

Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldmanwrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. City attorneys issued subpoenas last month during the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “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.”

The subpoenas for any electoral activity might be legally acceptable, since churches have a tax exemption — but that is generally a state and federal issue, not a municipal distinction. The demand to produce any comments regarding “homosexuality or gender identity” go straight to the heart of the First Amendment and on government censorship. The intent to intimidate Christian pastors into silence on these issues could not be clearer, and uses the threat of government action to back up that intimidation.

The pastors wonder what happened to their constitutional rights of free speech and free exercise of religion, ABC’s local affiliate reports:

Pastor Hernan Castano received a subpoena and believes his sermons are protected by the First Amendment.

“For a city government to step into churches and ask pastors to turn in sermons, it’s gone too far. This is not what America, the nation is about,” he told Eyewitness News. …

Some signatures were acquired at churches which make the sermons fair game, according to City Attorney Dave Feldman.

“If they choose to do this inside the church, choose to do this from the pulpit, then they open the door to the questions being asked,” Feldman said.

Again, that argument might work for issues about the petitions, and possibly even the mayor, if it was tied to their tax status and electoral activities, assuming the city could assert jurisdiction on those points. Those topics might be defensible in a discovery demand, too, although that would come from a court motion rather than a subpoena from the city attorneys. But when it comes to their positions on LGBT issues and “gender identity,” that’s a different kettle of fish. This demonstrates precisely why these pastors opposed the law in the first place and sued to stop it. The law in question would give the local government far too much power to punish legitimate speech and dissent using the rubric of “equal rights,” even though the effect of the law is to heavily burden the right to speech and right to free religious expression.

In the long run, the city may have done these pastors a big favor by tipping their hand so early as to how they planned to use this ordinance all along.


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Comments

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Just to be clear: the sex pervert mayor denied certification of a petition to overturn a law benefiting sex perverts who want to pee in opposite sex restrooms, and she is now on a fishing expedition to intimidate the opponents of peeing in opposite sex restrooms on religious grounds.

And you’re fine with that.

Akzed on October 15, 2014 at 3:15 PM

Genisis rewritten:
In the beginning Obama created a Fundamental Transformation.

Carnac on October 15, 2014 at 3:15 PM

But you guys are clearly championing the idea of churches being above the law our boots.

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:03 PM

FIFY.

Axeman on October 15, 2014 at 3:16 PM

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:05 PM

It speaks volumes for the Left and all those who disagree with them. Y’all seem very short sighted to me. This is going to come back and bite the Left square in the azz.

Cindy Munford on October 15, 2014 at 3:16 PM

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 3:05 PM

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You really have trouble following that? You are arguing for a chuch to be immune to subpoenas, that puts them above the law. Sorry that should be “christian church” not just church because of course your view of other religions precludes them getting the same special rights.

Please at least think through your position before espousing it, L2G. It’ll save us these little lessons where I have to explain your position to you.

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:09 PM

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Awright . . . . . which one of you idiots here argued for Christian churches to be “immune to subpoenas”? . . . . . Be honest about it . . . . . don’t make Tlaloc have to point you out.
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For myself, I’m only claiming that these subpoenas have no grounds/basis for ever having been validated by whomever the “black-robed, gavel-swinging bench-sitter” is, who ‘okayed’ them.

Otherwise … no, churches are not above the law. My argument in this case is that the Houston City government has attempted to set itself above the law.

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 3:20 PM

Democrats Try to Repeal First Amendment

Akzed on October 15, 2014 at 3:23 PM

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:09 PM

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You still … haven’t justified the issuing of the subpoenas. That’s what I’m looking for, from you or whomever.

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 3:23 PM

You still … haven’t justified the issuing of the subpoenas. That’s what I’m looking for, from you or whomever.

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 3:23 PM

Because….. LAW!… or something.

GWB on October 15, 2014 at 3:35 PM

I know which of those two I have more trust in.

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Oh yes, you always turn to the jackboot, that much is clear.

GWB on October 15, 2014 at 3:38 PM

You really have trouble following that? You are arguing for a chuch to be immune to subpoenas, that puts them above the law.

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:09 PM

Actually, the FIRST AMENDMENT puts freedom of religion above these subpoenas. It is the LAW that protects the church from government.

dominigan on October 15, 2014 at 3:41 PM

The very idea of a church being subject to the same laws as everyone else seems to incense you for some odd reason.

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:03 PM

The FIRST AMENDMENT allows them and us to speak out against the government. It also allows for the freedom to practice that religion without fear of government intervention. Why do you speak about denying them the protection that the FIRST AMENDMENT provides?

The very idea of a church being protected by the same laws as everyone else seems to incense you for some odd reason.

dominigan on October 15, 2014 at 3:48 PM

My memory’s slipping . . . . . should’ve posted this link earlier :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-HAUEbJ0M0
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I had no clue about the “Johnson amendment”, before hearing this presentation by Rev Jim Garlow.

(yeah, it’s from my channel . . . shameless self-promotion using the hotair blogsite)

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 4:07 PM

I understand that, but Akzed’s point, however crudely made and as non-germane to the topic, is a valid one. Cleombrotus on October 15, 2014 at 2:56 PM
“Crude” I can take, but “non-germane”?! You cut me to the quick!
Akzed on October 15, 2014 at 3:06 PM

You know, you’re right. Here I am talking about “the larger picture” and then I call your point “non-germane.”

I stand corrected.

(

Cleombrotus on October 15, 2014 at 4:10 PM

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:09 PM

You still … haven’t justified the issuing of the subpoenas.

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 3:23 PM

Here’s the exchange from yesterday.

Please explain how they are material to a case regarding the number of signatures on a petition?

corkie on October 14, 2014 at 9:57 PM

I couldn’t say

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 2:12 AM

TIaloc is a moron. He keeps pretending that people think churches should be immune from subpoenas instead of realizing that the obvious argument is against government lawyers abusing subpoena power. Forcing people to hire lawyers to fight bogus subpoenas is an abuse of power.

corkie on October 15, 2014 at 4:12 PM

As an evangelical Christian, I fully expect to be imprisoned (or martyred) for my faith before I die of natural causes. And I expect it to happen right here in the good ol’ USofA.

lovesthesun on October 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM

corkie on October 15, 2014 at 4:12 PM

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Oh … nonsense . . . . . . . . . I’m quite certain Tlaloc will eventually reply with some valid, intellectually well thought-out response that will silence all the rest us . . . . . RIGHT … TLALOC ? !

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 4:23 PM

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:09 PM

You still … haven’t justified the issuing of the subpoenas.

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 3:23 PM

Here’s the exchange from yesterday.

Please explain how they are material to a case regarding the number of signatures on a petition?

corkie on October 14, 2014 at 9:57 PM

I couldn’t say

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 2:12 AM

TIaloc is a moron. He keeps pretending that people think churches should be immune from subpoenas instead of realizing that the obvious argument is against government lawyers abusing subpoena power. Forcing people to hire lawyers to fight bogus subpoenas is an abuse of power.

corkie on October 15, 2014 at 4:12 PM

To troll, or not to troll: that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler on the blog to endure the outrageous offensiveness of facts and logic, or to take arms against a sea of straw men, and by opposing them, pretend to have won…..

There Goes the Neighborhood on October 15, 2014 at 4:52 PM

latest out of Ma Parker’s compound…

the subpoena was a poorly worded document produced by pro bono attorneys (ahem Fulbright & Jaworski no less) that neither the city attorney or mayor had seen…both say would not have used those words…both say they will clarify their actual intentions

In other words. Houston executive efforts are just like Obama’s administrations are. Democrats are liars.

DanMan on October 15, 2014 at 5:52 PM

/facepalm

It’s Jeremiah.

Great Godfrey. I made a mistake!

I won’t mention the context–I’m already in enough trouble.

GWB on October 15, 2014 at 11:29 AM

I appreciate your attitude.

(If I may be allowed another quotations):

So they called for them and ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

davidk on October 15, 2014 at 6:15 PM

You really have trouble following that? You are arguing for a chuch to be immune to subpoenas, that puts them above the law.

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 3:09 PM

Actually, the FIRST AMENDMENT puts freedom of religion above these subpoenas. It is the LAW that protects the church from government.

dominigan on October 15, 2014 at 3:41 PM

You are both right, in a way, but seem to still be wrong.

Yes, Tlaloc, the rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and religion ARE above the law. That is what inalienable means.

Yes, Dominigan, the First Amendment does protect people from the government. However, it does NOT “put freedom of religion above these subpeonas.” Freedom of religion is inherently above them. The distinction is very important. Libs like Tlaloc believe (and want) rights to be a gift from the government. The founders knew that those rights come from a power higher than any man or government. The First Amendment is a reminder of the latter position.

Pattosensei on October 15, 2014 at 6:32 PM

City attorneys issued subpoenas last month for “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.”

I’m guessing those were all stored on Lois Lerner’s computer hard drive. If the Houston city attorneys find that hard drive, they’ll have it all.

RJL on October 15, 2014 at 7:25 PM

Pattosensei on October 15, 2014 at 6:32 PM

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Well said … and needed saying.

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 8:11 PM

The troll sure doesn’t like the idea of people being able to say what they want, unless he’s cool with what they have to say.

CurtZHP on October 15, 2014 at 8:33 PM

“In the long run, the city may have done these pastors a big favor by tipping their hand so early as to how they planned to use this ordinance all along.”

It’s just possible that a right-thinking attorney tipped their hand on purpose, knowing that their action was wrong legally and morally; and wanted to give the forces of Goodness and Light a leg up.

Yes, a lawyer may have done that. Miracles happen!

ReggieA on October 15, 2014 at 8:43 PM

As an evangelical Christian, I fully expect to be imprisoned (or martyred) for my faith before I die of natural causes. And I expect it to happen right here in the good ol’ USofA.

lovesthesun on October 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM

Yes, well…
As a rabid Presbyterian, I don’t expect to be imprisoned or martyred for my Faith. I plan to die fighting, if I have to, but I intend to continue living as a Christian. And if that happens in this land, it won’t be “the good ol’ USofA” anymore then.

ReggieA on October 15, 2014 at 8:53 PM

They are not going to stop. This is going to be the issue that will bring the end of all our rights.

petunia on October 15, 2014 at 10:16 PM

As an evangelical Christian, I fully expect to be imprisoned (or martyred) for my faith before I die of natural causes. And I expect it to happen right here in the good ol’ USofA.

lovesthesun on October 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM

You won’t be alone. I will stand with brothers and sisters on that.

reddevil on October 15, 2014 at 10:19 PM

On the other hand, municipalities often hold a charter from the state. They are the governmental subdivisions, like the federal government argues the states are. It would be interesting if Perry stepped in and asked Parker how would she like to be mayor of a city that used to exist.

Axeman on October 15, 2014 at 12:05 PM

I thought Perry was already governor of Houston?

#BuckFarack

Nutstuyu on October 15, 2014 at 10:27 PM

no need for the question mark, ….

DanMan on October 15, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Hey! What’d I ever do to you?!?

questionmark on October 15, 2014 at 10:34 PM

questionmark on October 15, 2014 at 10:34 PM

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. . . . . : )
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I actually went back to see what the original context was.

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 10:40 PM

As an evangelical Christian, I fully expect to be imprisoned (or martyred) for my faith before I die of natural causes. And I expect it to happen right here in the good ol’ USofA.

lovesthesun on October 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM

.
Yes, well…
As a rabid Presbyterian, I don’t expect to be imprisoned or martyred for my Faith. I plan to die fighting, if I have to, but I intend to continue living as a Christian. And if that happens in this land, it won’t be “the good ol’ USofA” anymore then.

ReggieA on October 15, 2014 at 8:53 PM

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It will be, when the fight’s over.

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 10:43 PM

Tlaloc on October 15, 2014 at 2:36 PM

When is the ban hammer coming back from the cleaners?

Nutstuyu on October 15, 2014 at 10:47 PM

FYI
Smack down.
Late this afternoon, AG Abbott demanded that Porker rescind the subpoenas. She made some kind of lame wishy-washy “that’s not what-I-meant statement.
He’s going to make a fine governor.
Oh…and Joel Osteen was not one of the pastors in question.

leftamark on October 15, 2014 at 10:53 PM

Oh…and Joel Osteen was not one of the pastors in question.

leftamark on October 15, 2014 at 10:53 PM

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Huh . . . . . I wonder why not ?

Anyway … thanks for that update, leftamark.

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 11:22 PM

Huh . . . . . I wonder why not ?

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 11:22 PM

My guess is that he’s not the kind to rock the boat.

leftamark on October 15, 2014 at 11:55 PM

listens2glenn on October 15, 2014 at 11:22 PM

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My guess is that he’s not the kind to rock the boat.

leftamark on October 15, 2014 at 11:55 PM

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That wouldn’t have stopped his dad, but Joel reserves the right to be different … just like I’m not very much like my dad.

listens2glenn on October 16, 2014 at 12:29 AM

questionmark on October 15, 2014 at 10:34 PM

how are the Mysterians doing?

DanMan on October 16, 2014 at 7:45 AM

Seriously??!!

CEA_Agent on October 18, 2014 at 1:58 PM