Houston withdraws pastors’ subpoenas

c. 2014 Religion News Service

(RNS) The mayor of Houston on Wednesday withdrew the subpoenas of sermons from five pastors who opposed an ordinance banning discrimination against LGBT people.

Filed two weeks ago, the subpoenas outraged many conservative Christians as an affront to religious freedom.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Wednesday (Oct. 29) that as important as it is to protect the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the subpoenas became a distraction. They were aimed at pastors active in the movement to overturn HERO through a citywide vote.

Parker, Houston’s first openly gay mayor, said she made the decision after meeting with Houston pastors and then with national Christian leaders, including National Clergy Council President Rob Schenck.

“They came without political agendas, without hate in their hearts and without any desire to debate the merits of HERO,” Parker said. “They simply wanted to express their passionate and very sincere concerns about the subpoenas.”

Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, called the subpoenas a “gross abuse of power.”

“We are gratified that the First Amendment rights of the pastors have triumphed over government overreach and intimidation,” he said after Parker’s announcement.

The pastors are part of a movement that collected signatures to place HERO on the ballot, in hopes city voters would reject it. Anti-Hero efforts had at first focused on HERO’s guarantee — later dropped from a draft of the ordinance — that transgender people can use a men’s or women’s bathroom, depending on the gender with which they identify.

The five pastors — four men and one woman — are not among the activists who sued the city after it rejected thousands of signatures needed to place HERO on the ballot. They were, however, involved in the effort to secure signatures for the measure’s repeal. The subpoenas would have allowed the city’s legal team to peruse sermons from the pastors that dealt with HERO.

Stanley called the rejection of those signatures “arbitrary” and said the city is “bent on pushing through its deeply unpopular ordinance at any cost.”

Religion News Service

RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

Leave a Reply

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
3 Comment threads
2 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors
George Nixon ShulerKevinMethodistPieMark Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Rights must be exercised responsibly. It is appropriate for the government to step in and impose reasonable controls so that we all feel safe. Any sane person can see that. Oh wait. I was thinking of the second amendment. Never mind.


Why would only “Conservative Christians” be outraged? When I first heard about this, I thought one of the right-wing fringe groups must be making it up. Houston couldn’t seriously be demanding dissident pastors turn over their sermons? How does the mayor measure “hate in the heart”? Is freedom of the pulpit dependent on her evaluation?

George Nixon Shuler

Most certainly not, and no one is claiming that it is. But in the evidence gathering phase of lawsuits, many documents are subpoenaed, often many more than are needed. The process is perfectly ordinary. The legal team was only acting as good attorneys should. The demonization of the Mayor is most Unchristian. She’s merely the defendant with a responsibility to the taxpayers to defend the city’s actions.


This article is a little misleading. The HERO ordinance is an inappropriate governmental power-grab and was forcibly passed without the opportunity for fair public input. It may even be unconstitutional. There were 3 times the number of signatures needed for it to be placed on the ballot for a public referendum, but the petition was rejected without justification. Additionally, this article makes it sound as if the pastors actually favor persecuting LGBT people. Not true. What they favor is the 1st amendment. The subpoenas are over-reaching and a violation of the constitution. The only reason the mayor backed down was… Read more »

George Nixon Shuler

Actually, the City is the defendant in a spurious lawsuit, and while the legal team overreached, those pastors willfully violated the stipulations of their IRS 501(c)(3) status. Government has a responsibility to insure civil rights. Employment of Pastors is exempt from the law – each church or church body has the freedom to discriminate there. However, if they operate ancilliary businesses like day care centers, they cannot violate civil rights laws. It is immoral to use referenda to take away rights.

%d bloggers like this: