October 17, 2014
Houston subpoenas Church Sermons for Hate Speech
By Mark Wachtler
October 17, 2014. Houston. (ONN) Houston City Hall and its three-term Mayor have just crossed a line that most Americans will not tolerate. Houston subpoenaed the church sermons of the city’s religious leaders this week to check them for criminal hate speech against homosexuals, the Mayor, a controversial new law or the government in general. Christian leaders across America are outraged and rapidly mobilizing their forces to fight back.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Image courtesy of NYMag.com.
Houston’s HERO law and the ‘Bathroom Bill’
The local law from America’s 4th largest city is titled HERO for Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. It was championed by Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker who proudly displays her sexual orientation the same way veterans display their heroic service to our country. But while service members protect and defend the US Constitution and the civil rights it contains, Mayor Parker, Houston Democrats and LGBT extremists are now widely accused of attacking those very same rights.
With the forceful leadership of Mayor Parker, the HERO law was passed by the City of Houston in June. Basically, it protects citizens from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. But drumming up swarms of opposition and controversy is a section which allows individuals to use any public washroom, shower, locker room or fitting room they wish based on their own perceived gender identity. In other words, if a man with a penis wants to be recognized as a woman and use the ladies washroom and showers alongside women and even little girls, it is against the law to try and stop him.
The HERO law specifically states, ‘It shall be unlawful for any place of public accommodation or any employee or agent thereof to intentionally deny any person entry to any restroom, shower room, or similar facility if that facility is consistent with and appropriate to that person’s expression of gender identity.’
55,000 petition signatures rejected
Almost immediately, Houston religious leaders, parents and even regular citizens submitted 55,000 petition signatures to have a ballot initiative included on the coming election ballot calling for the repeal of what they termed the ‘Bathroom Bill’.
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Houston requires 17,269 valid petition signatures for a voter referendum. Houston city officials challenged nearly every one of the 55,000 in a determined effort to keep the decision out of the hands of the people and the referendum off the ballot.
City Secretary Anna Russell however, confirmed 17,846 valid signatures remained after the repeated challenges. The initiative should have been included on the November ballot. But Mayor Annise Parker, her administration and the Houston city attorney rejected the referendum without giving any legitimate reasons. In August, after City Hall rejected their petitions, organizers sued the city.
Censoring the Church
In response to the lawsuit filed by a number of Houston religious and civil rights leaders against the city for rejecting their ballot initiative petitions, Mayor Parker’s administration issued subpoenas to a half dozen Christian Ministers and Pastors demanding copies of their church sermons. City officials admittedly want to check for any hate speech about Mayor Parker, the LGBT community or even the city’s HERO law.
Curiously, the pastors and religious leaders who received subpoenas aren’t even part of the lawsuit against the city. Instead, they were just some of the more than 400 Houston churches and grassroots organizations that united against the portion of the law that lets anyone use any public bathroom, shower or changing room they want simply by saying they want to be recognized as that gender.
Three days ago, standing strong behind her persecution of Houston Christian leaders, Mayor Annise Parker responded to the mounting outrage Tweeting, “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?” The following day, Mayor Parker and the Houston City Attorney denied any knowledge of the subpoenas being issued by City Hall to the church Pastors.
When pressed about it by the Huffington Post two days ago, Mayor Parker’s spokeswoman Janice Evans said, “Neither the Mayor nor City Attorney David Feldman were aware the subpoenas had been issued until yesterday. Both agree the original documents were overly broad. The city will move to narrow the scope during an upcoming court hearing.”
Civil rights groups take on LGBT intolerance
With a militant LGBT Mayor and tyrannical pary officials using the power of the state to terrorize and censor the sermons of Pastors and Priests in their own churches, civil rights groups quickly joined hundreds of religious organizations in condemning the subpoenas issued to the five religious leaders.
The Alliance Defending Freedom has already filed a motion to force the withdrawl of the subpoenas. ADF Vice President Greg Scott told the Huffington Post, “It appears that the city will still be demanding access to no less than 17 categories of private communications, including things like text messages, between private citizens who are not even parties to the suit and other private parties. This is a naked attempt to intimidate private citizens who did nothing but disagree with the government over a policy matter. Do any of us really want to live in an America in which we can be threatened, silenced and even punished for disagreeing with the government?”
ADF attorney Christina Holcomb also released a statement which said in part, “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 civil rights association’s senior attorney Erik Stanley added, “City council members are supposed to be public servants, not Big Brother overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge. In this case, they have embarked upon a witch hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it.”
Religious leaders fight back
Fox News reached out to the five Houston Pastors who received subpoenas demanding transcripts of their recent church sermons, emails and personal conversations. Their reactions were a mix of shock, fear, anger and a renewed calling to stand up for freedom of religion, even if it means their own imprisonment. They’re calling on all fellow Pastors, Priests, Reverends, Ministers, Rabbis, Imams, Monks, Priestesses, and any other religious leaders across America to join them in their defense.
One Houston religious leader who received a subpoena is Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church. As detailed by Fox News, ‘He was ordered to produce all speeches and sermons related to Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality and gender identity.’ The Pastor told the outlet, “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 of the Texas Pastor Council also received a subpoena. He told the network, “We’re not afraid of this bully. We’re not intimidated at all.” He went on to remark, “We are not going to yield our First Amendment rights. This is absolutely a complete abuse of authority.” It seems their plight hasn’t gone unnoticed. A national campaign has been launched to come to the Houston religious leaders’ aid.
Outrage against Houston goes national
It seems Houston religious and civil rights leaders aren’t alone any longer. The 500,000 members of the Family Research Council have joined the fight. “The state is breaching the wall of separation between church and state,” FRC Executive Director Tony Perkins told Fox News, “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.”
Still, Houston officials aren’t backing down. Mayor Annise Parker’s spokeswoman, Janice Evans, explained the government’s actions against the religious leaders saying, “These pastors worked to organize the repeal petition.” Houston city attorney David Feldman also defended the subpoenas demanding sermon transcripts and private communications from the churches saying, “It’s relevant to know what representations and instructions were given regarding these petitions.”
While city officials have hinted that they might be willing to water down the controversial HERO law, they are standing by their right to monitor church sermons, personal discussions, emails and phone conversations of Pastors and Priests in an attempt to have them arrested for hate crimes. When in reality, all the religious leaders did was take a public stand against mandatory unisex public bathrooms and showers.