UPDATED Houston Has a Problem: City Subpoenas Preachers’ Sermons over Equal Rights


Earlier this year, the city of Houston, Texas passed an equal rights ordinance which bans, among other things, discrimination based on gender identity. The ordinance’s greatest champion was Houston’s openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker. The ordinance was opposed by many, including many local Christian leaders, who think that granting “gender identity” legally protection on par with sex or race is a bad idea.

Mayor Parker

Now, some of the outspoken religious leaders who opposed the ordinance are having their sermons subpoenaed by the city. The Houston Chronicle reports:

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 Feldman wrongly 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.”

To say this reeks of retaliation and intimidation against political opponents is an understatement. That it is being done in the name of equal rights is absurd. Merits or demerits of the ordinance aside, this kind of thuggish abuse of the law is incompatible with the rule of law and poses a threat to every basic civil right—including those Mayor Parker wants to defend.

These sorts of abuses aren’t new. As Pope Francis said earlier this year, “Corruption is precisely the sin that the person with authority – whether political, economic or ecclesiastical – over others has most readily to hand.” If using the law as a cudgel to settle ideological scores is an old game, head-scratchingly blatant instances like this seem to be on the rise.  (Remember the IRS demanding to know the content of an Iowa pro-life group’s prayers as a condition for granting tax-exempt status?) Let’s hope and pray—and work very hard—to make sure this doesn’t become the new normal.


It seems Mayor Parker is doubling down. (H/T NRO.)


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About Author

Stephen P. White is a fellow in the Catholic Studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. His work focuses on the application of Catholic social teaching to a broad spectrum of contemporary political and cultural issues. Since 2005, Mr. White has been coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society: a three week seminar on Catholic social teaching, with an emphasis on the thought of Blessed John Paul II, which takes place every summer in Kraków, Poland. He studied politics at the University of Dallas and philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He is a graduate of the St. Patrick's Evangelisation School in London, England.

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