UPDATE: US Civil Rights Commission Tells Houston Mayor to Leave Pastors Alone
The news that Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, Texas subpoenaed the sermons and other communications from several pastors after the passage and attempted repeal of a controversial “bathroom bill” in the city has become a national matter.
Bathroom bills are dangerous, to say the least. Typically a bathroom bill will allow a man to use the women’s bathroom, locker room, or other facilities (and vice versa) based on little more than a perceived gender identity. In other words a man can simply say that he is a woman and be allowed to use the women’s facilities. The dangers of such bills seem obvious to everyone but the activists pushing for their passage.
When the Houston bathroom bill was being proposed by the city many pastors spoke out against it and even encouraged their congregations to oppose the bill. Such speech is not merely appropriate for a pastor inside his church it is constitutionally protected speech. But that didn’t stop the city of Houston and Mayor Annise Parker from subpoenaing the sermons, emails, and other communication of these pastors.
That’s when people across the country got mad.
The result has been an enormous backlash against the city, Mayor Parker, and the city attorney. Alliance Defending Freedom is now representing the pastors being subpoenaed and is asking the city to drop their request for private communication because it is an unconstitutional abuse of power.
But the latest voice in this outrageous matter comes from the US Civil Rights Commission which is demanding the city drop their request for the pastor’s private communications immediately. A recent post at ADF Media reports:
“In the letter, Commissioner Peter Kirsanow calls the requested subpoenas ‘a blatant attempt to punish these pastors for expressing their religiously-based political views” and “an abuse of government power.’”
The letter says, among other things:
“No government entity should be in the business of requiring private citizens to turn over private communications about the issues of the day.”
“Obviously this discovery request would tend to have a chilling effect on political speech, which is the speech subject to the greatest First Amendment protection.”
“The pastors’ understanding of the ordinance and the petition is irrelevant to the litigation…the validity of the signatures is the only legitimate issue. If the City wants to argue the merits of the ordinance, let the referendum proceed and let both sides make their case. Thus, the discovery request appears instead to be a blatant attempt to punish these pastors for expressing their religiously-based political views. It punishes them by subjecting them to the stress of a subpoena (though they are not parties to the litigation), impairing their right to petition the government, forcing them to comply with a patently overbroad discovery request, and…chilling future religiously-informed speech. This is an abuse of government power, and it is unavailing to claim that there is some distinction between the City and its attorneys in this instance.”
Clearly Mayor Parker and the City of Houston thought it could intimidate and silence pastors concerning critical moral issues. The only plausible reason for their subpoena is so they could review the pastors’ speech and determine what they believe to be appropriate, or inappropriate. This is neither the right nor responsibility of the government. Their attempt at such action is an abuse of power and infringement of the pastors/ civil rights.
In light of the US Civil Rights Commissions letter it is up to Mayor Parker and the City of Houston to make the next move. ADF says they are prepared to take the city to court if they refuse to drop the subpoena request:
“The city filed a preliminary response to the ADF motion to quash the subpoenas by removing the word “sermons” but keeping all 17 categories of requests, including private communications between pastors and their congregants about the mayor, the ordinance, homosexual behavior, and gender identity. The next step, if the city does not withdraw its subpoena requests, is to await the city’s more formal response, and then the court will decide whether to set a hearing.”
One of the Pastors being subpoenaed, Khanh Huynh, along with ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley discussed the issue on the Mike Huckabee show. Both Huynh and Stanley shared that they have never seen a more blatant and egregious abuse of power and violation of the Constitution. (See the video here.)
The fact that the US Civil Rights Commission is demanding the city of Houston and Mayor Parker drop their subpoena request is a good sign for the pastors and the First Amendment. It signals that the federal government is not willing to support the actions of Houston and Mayor Parker. It would not be surprising for them to drop their request soon. But if they don’t ADF is fully prepared to defend the pastors and there is a very good chance Mayor Parker will be a one-term mayor.
See the Mike Huckabee video below. If the video doesn’t appear automatically please refresh your browser.