A Subpoena for Your Thoughts…
By Tony Perkins
Houston Mayor Annise Parker has been on quite a fishing expedition — but it’s her power that needs to be reeled in. Americans everywhere are appalled by the lesbian leader, who declared war on the First Amendment by barging into churches and demanding pastors’ private communications. In a country still burning over the IRS’s crackdown, Parker’s missive became the subpoena heard ’round the world. Fed up with this administration’s heavy-handedness, Houston has become a rallying cry for freedom-loving Americans tired of seeing their laws and liberties casually tossed aside in a liberal stampede.
“The city was counting on the fact that (its campaign) would be muddled in the court of public opinion,” said Professor Matthew Wilson. “It wasn’t.” To this day, no one knows what the city is hoping to accomplish with the subpoenas. As Alliance Defending Freedom’s Erik Stanley explained, “any information that is likely to turn up would be irrelevant to the pertinent legal matter — which is that the mayor expressly violated the city charter by refusing to heed a certified referendum petition (on the “bathroom bill” that sparked this whole controversy).”
Obviously, Houston’s leadership has one goal — and information gathering isn’t it. This is about political intimidation. But if the Mayor was hoping to scare off these churches, she’ll have to try harder. Every pastor I’ve spoken to would go to jail before surrendering their God-given rights to preach the Truth. And as far as Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is concerned, imprisonment isn’t a stretch. “I think that is a real risk,” the Senator told CBN. “Some in the media ridicule that threat saying there is no danger of the government coming after pastors. That is the usual response.” But he adds: “The specter of government trying to determine if what pastors preach from the pulpit meets with the policy views or political correctness of the governing authorities, that prospect is real and happening now.”
Together with Attorney General Greg Abbott, Cruz is leading the Texas push-back to the city’s out-of-control government. At yesterday’s Houston rally, Sen. Cruz — the son of a pastor himself — joined church leaders to demand that Parker call off her attack dogs. “This is country that was formed centuries ago by people fleeing religious oppression and seeking a land where you do not need to seek the permission of a king or queen or president…
The city of Houston has no power, no legal authority to silence the church. Caesar has no jurisdiction over the pulpit.”
Now, almost a week after the story exploded across the web, the Mayor’s office is only digging in deeper. Yesterday, the Mayor tried to elicit sympathy for her cause by tweeting out a hit piece on me and others from the not-so-credible Media Matters site (which, incidentally, called her sermon-grab “basic lawyering”). In a clever move, the city filed a “revised” subpoena this morning that doesn’t include pastors’ sermons. That head-fake might fool some, but the reality is, Houston didn’t need a subpoena to access those sermons in the first place! They were already public.
In this “new” filing, she still insists on seeing speeches (isn’t a sermon a speech?), private emails, texts, and other communications related to the Mayor’s office and the city’s “bathroom bill.”
As ADF fumes, “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. 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.”
While tensions boil over on the ground, Houston City Attorney (and lightning rod) David Feldman poured gasoline on the fire. “The fact that you happen to be a pastor and you happen to be at a church doesn’t provide you with protection.” That may be, but the fact that you’re an American living under the First Amendment does.
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law.
(Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)
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