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Houston Mayor withdraws subpoena of five city pastors

Mayor Annise Parker told Image Chanock Sanchez | Foter | CC By-NC-ND

Was Houston Mayor Annise Parker trying to bully pastors into silence? Photo Annise Parker:  Chanock Sanchez | Foter | CC By-NC-ND

[by Dean Smith] Houston Mayor Annise Parker said today she has told the City’s Attorney David Feldman to withdraw Houston’s subpoena of the speeches, emails, notes and texts of five city pastors related to homosexuality, gender identity and Houston Mayor Annise Parker — the city’s first openly lesbian mayor.

The subpoena shocked people across America as it violated the pastors’ First Amendment Rights of Freedom of Religion.

Many believed the city was trying to intimidate those who opposed a bill the city passed this past May that allowed men and women to use washroom facilities and showers of the opposite sex. If a biological male identified himself as female, he would under the law be allowed to use female facilities.

The names of the five subpoenaed pastors also known as the ‘Houston 5’ are:

  1. Dave Welch (executive director of the Houston area U.S. Pastor Council);
  2. Steve Riggle (senior pastor of Grace Community Church);
  3. Ms. Magda Hermida (Magda Hermida Ministries);
  4. Pastor Hernan Castano (Director of Hispanic Church Development at Houston Area Pastor Council, Rivers of Oil Bible Institute and Iglesia Rios De Aceite); and
  5. Pastor Khan Huynh (Vietnamese Baptist Church)

How they ended up being subpoenaed is a bizarre story in itself.

The citizens of Houston, outraged by the city’s bill and concerned it could be used by sexual predators, launched a petition drive to force the city to either cancel the bill or put it to a city-wide referendum vote. They only needed 17, 200 petitions to require the referendum and easily surpassed that number collecting 55,000 signatures in under 30 days.

In any petition drive, there are names that may not be valid or illegible, so petitions routinely collect more names to guarantee they have the required amount. Having collected over three times the needed signatures, the organizers were convinced they had met the threshold to force a city-wide vote on the referendum.

Houston’s city secretary did a count and after going through 19,000 names declared the petition had 17,200 valid signatures (in fact it had 500 to spare.)

However, in a shocking move, the City’s attorney revoked the petition stating there were irregularities. Shocked, petition organizers launched a lawsuit against the city to force it to obey its own law. The city in turn counter-sued five pastors demanding any sermons, emails, texts and other communications they may have had on the issue of homosexuality, gender identity and Mayor Annise Parker. The city later amended this request changing sermons to speeches.

The five pastors were not even involved in the suit against the city and people wondered what their sermons had to do with whether or not the signatures on the petition were valid. Others said this speech is protected under the constitution and what they may or may not have said was immaterial. Many believed the city was simply trying to intimidate any who opposed the city’s law.

Citing their first amendment rights, the pastors refused to hand over the requested information and Mayor Annise Parker quickly found herself at the center of a media firestorm. Hundreds of pastors across America sent her sermons and Bibles. Another petition drive was launched demanding the city stop its subpoena.

In her announcement the city was withdrawing its subpoena, Mayor Annise Parker said:

“It was never our intention to interfere with clergy and their congregants. I don’t want to have a national debate on freedom of religion when my purpose is to defend … a city ordinance.”

Alliance Defending Freedom was defending the subpoenaed pastors against the city’s lawsuit. The Houston 5’s refusal to turn over the requested documents could have resulted in jail time, fines or both.


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