Religious freedom wins this round of City vs. Church
After significant national pressure, Houston Mayor Annise Parker has withdrawn the controversial subpoenas entirely.
Ed Whelen at National Review has the scoop:
I’m pleased to pass along word from the Alliance Defending Freedom, counsel for five Houston pastors, that Houston mayor Annise Parker has—finally—entirely withdrawn the harassing subpoenas that the City unjustifiably inflicted on the pastors.
I’ll repeat what I said in my first post on this matter: The law firm of Susman Godfrey, which is representing the City “pro bono” in the litigation, deserves to share in the ample blame for this fiasco. In particular, Geoffrey L. Harrison, Alex Kaplan, and Kristen Schlemmer of that law firm seem not to have given a moment of careful thought to the First Amendment implications in this case of the sort of bullying discovery that they and other lawyers routinely engage in.
The Alliance Defending Freedom issued the following statement:
“The mayor really had no choice but to withdraw these subpoenas, which should never have been served in the first place. The entire nation–voices from every point of the spectrum left to right–recognize the city’s action as a gross abuse of power. We are gratified that the First Amendment rights of the pastors have triumphed over government overreach and intimidation. The First Amendment protects the right of pastors to be free from government intimidation and coercion of this sort.
But the subpoenas were only one element of this disgraceful episode. The scandal began with another abuse of power when the city of Houston arbitrarily threw out the valid signatures of thousands of voters. The city did this all because it is bent on pushing through its deeply unpopular ordinance at any cost.The subpoena threat has been withdrawn but the mayor and the city should now do the right thing and allow the people of the Houston to decide whether to repeal the ordinance.”
Following a bitter battle over an overreaching city ordinance, Bayou City clergy and the city of Houston weren’t on the best of terms. The ordinance, dubbed “HERO,” allows transgendered persons to sue businesses that prohibit their use of their preferred bathroom.
Rather than place the measure on the ballot, the city of Houston enacted the measure via ordinance. Concerned citizens and clergy rallied together, collecting more than twice as many required signatures needed to repeal the ordinance. After many of the signatures were certified, the city claimed that more than half of the signatures were invalid.
Shortly thereafter, local pastors who were vocal in the fight against the city of Houston received subpoenas requiring any and all communication, even text messages, but most disturbingly:
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.
So egregious was the overreach that even the ACLU issued a statement asking Mayor Parker to reconsider the subpoena saying, “While a lot of things are fair game in a lawsuit, government must use special care when intruding into matters of faith. The government should never engage in fishing expeditions into the inner workings of a church, and any request for information must be carefully tailored to seek only what is relevant to the dispute.”
Thankfully, religious freedom wins this round of City vs. Church.
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