Houston mayor withdraws demand for sermons

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Today, Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston, Texas, abruptly withdrew her demand that five area pastors turn their sermons over to a judge. She gave reasons for withdrawing that sound more political than legal.

The Houston case in review

The Bible. After getting a thousand of these, the Mayor of Houston blinked.

Altar and Bible at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Released to the public domain.

Recall: Annise Parker achieved notoriety as the first open female homosexual to win election as Mayor of Houston. (The first female homosexual of all time to become Mayor was Kathryn Whitmire, in the Eighties.) She urged the City Council to pass an ordinance to force any business offering public restrooms to let anyone use them, regardless of anatomy, who “felt” more comfortable using one restroom or another.

Opponents of this “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance,” or “HERO” to its proponents, circulated a petition to put repeal of the ordinance on the ballot. They gathered 50,000 signatures, more than double what they needed. But the Houston city attorney refused to accept them as valid. Naturally, the petitioners sued. (That case will go to trial January 15 of next year.)

And as part of pre-trial discovery, the city attorney served a subpoena on five Christian pastors in the Greater Houston area. The subpoena demanded their public and private correspondence, including sermon text and notes, mentioning homosexuality, the petition, the ordinance, or Mayor Parker in any way.

Mayor withdraws

The Houston Chronicle carried the first report. OneNewsNow.com and WND each followed up. According to those sources, Mayor Parker called a press conference. At that conference she announced she would withdraw the subpoenas for the sermons.

The Alliance Defending Freedom represented the pastors in this matter. Today they said:

The entire nation – voices from every point of the spectrum left to right – recognize the city’s actions as a gross abuse of power. We are gratified that the First Amendment rights of the pastors have triumphed over government overreach and intimidation.

According to the Chronicle, Mayor Parker frankly admitted why she withdrew the subpoenas: she didn’t want to distract from her defense of the lawsuit against the city over the petition.

That was the most persuasive argument, because to me it was, “What is the goal of the subpoenas?” The goal of the subpoenas is to defend against a lawsuit, and not to provoke a public debate. I don’t want to have a national debate about freedom of religion when my whole purpose is to defend a strong and wonderful and appropriate city ordinance against local attack, and by taking this step today we remove that discussion about freedom of religion.

And why wouldn’t she want a public and national debate about freedom of religion? Because pastors and laypeople all over the country literally sent a thousand Bibles to her office when Governor Mike Huckabee asked them to. Facing that, she knew she’d lose any debate on religious freedom.

The counsel for the plaintiffs in the petition lawsuit said if Mayor Parker really wanted to show good will, she would tell the city’s lawyers not only to withdraw the subpoenas but also to withdraw their defense of the lawsuit, accept the petitions, and put repeal of the ordinance before a public vote. Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom agreed.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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