Roundup: Houston Pastors Facing Unconstitutional Government Power Grab Over Sermons

Posted on November 3, 2014 in Religious Freedom by

Houston pastorAs the battle in Houston continues over the city subpoenaing the sermons of at least five pastors for their involvement in opposing a local “bathroom bill,” the commentary continues to flow. Below you will find some notable voices and their thoughts on the subject to help you stay on top of the issue. Every American should be angry over the fact that any government entity would dare subpoena the speech of anyone, let alone pastors. All speech, and religious speech such as sermons is certainly included, is protected by the First Amendment and the government has no business seeking it. Prayerfully the city will back down. If not, I hope the Texas State Supreme Court squashes the subpoena request and ends the city is sued inquisition. Mayor Parker needs a strong wake-up call and reminder that she has no business intimidating people by violating their civil rights.

CBN: ADF Unimpressed by Houston’s Revised Subpoena’s

The Alliance Defending Freedom released a statement on the changes. “The city of Houston still doesn’t get it. It thinks that by changing nothing in its subpoenas other than to remove the word ‘sermons’ that it has solved the problem. That solves nothing,” ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said in the statement. “Even though the pastors are not parties in this lawsuit, the subpoenas still demand from them 17 different categories of information – information that encompasses speeches made by the pastors and private communications with their church members,” he continued. “As we have stated many times, the problem is the subpoenas themselves; they must be rescinded entirely.”

Canon and Culture: Three Reasons That Houston’s Subpoenas Are a Big Deal

“Rigorous First Amendment protection is needed against government discovery requests to non-parties. Otherwise a citizen’s mere exercise of First Amendment protected activity (like petitioning its government to vote on a controversial law) could subject the citizen to broad document and deposition subpoenas that would dissuade her from speaking in the first place. If court rules are interpreted to allow those burdens—especially if the citizens have publicly opposed the government that is subpoenaing them—it would likely suppress citizen participation in representative government. Citizens would fear that if they publicly advocate and lose the issue, they will be dragged into court by their political opponents, need to hire attorneys, be forced to hand over their private documents and be subjected to hostile depositions. That is far too high a price to impose both on citizens themselves and on the robust dialogue and public participation that are necessary in order to maintain a free society. It is an inquisition tactic used by a government that will not tolerate any dissent from or checks on its power.”

CNS News: City Not Backing Off ‘The Houston 5’

“Even though those citizens collected more than three times the necessary signatures, the mayor and city attorney unlawfully rejected the petitions after the city secretary approved them. The city then came after, not only those citizens, but also these pastors, who have nothing to do with the lawsuit, but who had publicly opposed the bill…Contrary to what the mayor has publicly stated, the problem with the subpoenas is not “one word,” that is, “sermons.” The problem is far bigger. In addition to sermons, the subpoenas seek the pastors’ communications on various moral and social issues. The subpoenas may also force the pastors to turn over the financial information of their church members and the churches the pastors serve. So, even if the city were to say that the pastors do not have to turn over their sermons, that would not at all resolve the problem.”

ADF Media: No Support for Claim that Houston is “Backing Off” Subpoenas

“The shame that the city of Houston has brought upon itself is real, but the claim that it has changed course is not. The city has so far taken no concrete action to withdraw the subpoenas. Furthermore, the subpoenas themselves are the problem – not just their request for pastors’ sermons. The city is not off the hook from its illegitimate request for e-mails, text messages, and other communications in which these pastors, who are not even party to this lawsuit, may have disagreed with the mayor. The way to fix this is to withdraw the subpoenas entirely. Otherwise, the city’s and the mayor’s overtures are simply more window-dressing intended to shield them from public scrutiny.”

The Global Dispatch: US Civil Rights Commissioner To Houston Mayor Annise Parker, ‘Back Off’

“There’s only one answer to Houston’s shameful problem: Withdraw the subpoenas. We agree with the commissioner that Houston should do just that immediately,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “Even though the pastors are not parties in this lawsuit, the subpoenas still demand from them 17 different categories of information, including their speeches and their private communications with church members. The city must respect the First Amendment and abandon its attempt to strong-arm into silence those who disagree with the city’s actions.”

“No government entity should be in the business of requiring private citizens to turn over private communications about the issues of the day,” the letter states. “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 Federalist: Houston Sermons Are, Legally Speaking, Fair Game

“Whether they refuse to comply with the subpoena or comply and the City of Houston finds any incidence of prohibited political speech, the battle is coming. But the outlook is not grim. The Supreme Court’s reasoning in Citizens United struck down precedent and rationale for regulation of political speech. That should take care of the Johnson Amendment, which implicates two First Amendment freedoms—speech and religion. More fundamentally, the IRS’s recent history has reminded us of the wisdom of Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in McCullogh v. MarylandThe power to tax does involve the power to destroy, and the IRS has given We the People little confidence that it would not use its power destructively. While religious institutions are subject to the taxing power of the government, they are vulnerable. We need to remember that religion is not exempt from taxation because Congress granted it an exception. Religion is one of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the first item of the Bill of Rights. It is not subject to taxation. As Chief Justice Marshall wrote of Maryland’s argument that it had a right to tax a U.S. bank: “The right never existed, and the question whether it has been surrendered cannot arise.”

The Blaze: ‘Bonhoeffer’ Author Fired Up Over Sermon Subpoena Controversy: ‘Everyone in America Should Be Freaking Out’

“When Eric Metaxas, author of “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” first read about the Houston city government subpoenaing the sermons of five church pastors, he said he couldn’t believe it. “This has to be a joke…This cannot be happening in America…It’s a shocking thing,” he said of the similarities to what’s happening in Houston, adding that “everyone in America should be freaking out.” “If we tolerate this kind of abrogation of religious freedom in this nation, all of our liberties will be unraveled,” Metaxas continued. “It is that serious. America needs to wake up. The church, especially, needs to know that this is a huge trampling of something that the Founders said was at the heart of all of our liberties.” (Video included)

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