What would Sam Houston say? The lesbian-activist mayor of Houston subpoenaed the sermons of pastors and then played innocent when it didn’t go well. She blamed pro bono attorneys and pleaded ignorance.
Back in July, the IRS entered into a secret agreement with atheist activists at the Freedom from Religion Foundation to compel a willing IRS to abide by a 2009 rule that allows the government to spy on pastors’ sermons and threaten them or actually take away their tax-free status if they say or do anything at all ‘political’.
The IRS is known to target people whose opinions they don’t like.
Pastors throughout the nation are holding Pulpit Freedom Sundays in response to discuss the relationship of politics and religion in defiance of this very real threat to the First Amendment.
Since that secret rule was passed, pastors have been on alert. The rule was devised in secrecy and the details of the agreement remain secret. Watchdog organizations have been forced to seek the details via FOIA requests.
When the lesbian-activist mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, subpoenaed the sermons of the pastors, they were understandably concerned.
The pastors are now being painted as conspiracy theorists and hysterics by the press for claiming their First Amendment rights were under assault.
The attorneys under Mayor Parker said they only wanted to look into instructions by pastors to those collecting signatures for a referendum on the newly-passed non-discrimination law. The claim is that it is key to pending litigation around whether the opponents of the law gathered enough signatures. However the subpoena was extremely and unnecessarily broad.
The controversial anti-discrimination ordinance – Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) – bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.
It applies to businesses that serve the public in any way. Religious institutions are exempt.
Opponents collected signatures to repeal the measure and that is what the city is contesting, claiming they didn’t have enough valid signatures.
The mayor’s office then subpoenaed the sermons of pastors connected to the lawsuit.
The claim from the mayor’s office is that pastors made their sermons relevant by using the pulpit to do political organizing.
The subpoena was extremely broad and amounted to a fishing expedition. The religious leaders were directed to turn over “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.”
It was an intimidation tactic if nothing else and it was a case of the mayor abusing her power of office.
The public’s response was very negative and that’s when Mayor Parker turned around and blamed the pro bono attorneys.
The mayor’s office says they agree it was too broad and it had been issued by pro bono attorneys working with the city, that neither she nor the City Attorney was aware the subpoenas had been issued until after the fact.
We are supposed to believe they weren’t trying to crackdown on pastors who preach against homosexuality and that they didn’t know about the subpoenas being issued.
The mayor’s office is also putting the onus on the pastors, accusing them of deliberately misinterpreting their intent. The subpoena clearly gave the pastors no other option.
The mayor and her subordinates aren’t interested in what the preachers preach they now say after the firestorm that ensued when the subpoenas were served and will limit the subpoena.
As an openly gay and activist mayor, Parker focuses on diversity, LGBTQ, and civil rights issues and building allyships across multiple communities. We are supposed to believe she wasn’t abusing her power to intimidate pastors and control the content of their sermons.