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Subpoenaing sermons

Not sure about this.

PetitionsInvalid

Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists who have sued the city.

Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldman wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

City attorneys issued subpoenas last month as part of the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

The subpoenas were issued to pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance: Dave Welch, Hernan Castano, Magda Hermida, Khanh Huynh and Steve Riggle. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization known for its role in defending same-sex marriage bans, filed a motion Monday on behalf of the pastors seeking to quash the subpoenas, and in a press announcement called it a “witch hunt.”

The city’s lawyers will face a high bar for proving the information in the sermons is essential to their case, said Charles Rhodes, a South Texas College of Law professor. The pastors are not named parties in the suit, and the “Church Autonomy Doctrine” offers fairly broad protections for internal church deliberations, he said.

Calling it an “unusual but not unprecedented” subpoena request, Rhodes said the city would stand a better chance of getting the sermons if it were a criminal case in which the message or directive in the sermons prompted a specific criminal action.

Still, he said, the city likely will get a boost because many of the sermons are broadcast or recorded and are intended to be shared with the public.

“This is unusual to see it come up in a pure political controversy,” Rhodes said. “The city is going to have to prove there is something very particular in the sermons that does not come up anywhere else.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have zero sympathy for the pastoral haters, whose affinity for lying about the HERO ought to make your average sinner blush. I look forward to them getting crushed in court, or if necessary at the ballot box. I think anything that has been recorded in some form for the purpose of being distributed is fair game here. I guess it’s not clear to me what the city is hoping to find by subpoenaing this stuff. Emails, other written correspondence, phone records, transcripts – these things I understand. I don’t quite see what the city’s goal is.

The other concern is that the HERO haters will do an effective job at portraying themselves as victims. It is the one thing they are really good at, after all. It looks like they succeeded, unfortunately.

Amid outrage from religious groups, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman on Wednesday appeared to back off a subpoena request for the sermons of certain ministers opposed to the city’s equal rights ordinance, with Parker calling it overly broad.

[…]

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” she said. “But I also think there was some misinterpretation on the other side.”

The subpoenas drew national attention this week, prompting Christian conservative groups to condemn the request as governmental overreach. U.S. Sen Ted Cruz issued a statement Wednesday, saying Parker “should be ashamed.”

“Let me just say that one word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read and I’m vilified coast to coast,” Parker said. “It’s a normal day at the office for me.”

The intent, Feldman said, was simply to get all communications between pastors about the signature gathering instructions, a key part of a lawsuit opponents have brought against the city. Critics filed suit after Feldman announced they had failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum, claiming the city attorney illegally inserted himself in the signature verification process.

Feldman said the city would clarify what it is looking for in its response to the pastors’ motion.

Glad to hear that, but I think we know what happens from here. I mean, once the website Snopes has to get involved, truth and nuance lose all meaning. Let’s just hope this is a short-term story. If the motion to quash succeeds, or if the city is allowed to go on this document hunt and comes up empty, all bets will be off on that. Campos and Texpatriate have more.

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8 Comments

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    Were any of the people who were served the subpoenas African American?

  2. Mike in Houston says:

    I doubt that this is the first round of discovery — and it’s pretty plain that Dave Welch was in this up to his eyeballs (ahem – training video) — so I’m sure that Jared Woodfill and the ADF absolutely do not want these 5 pastors of prejudice deposed under oath.

    It would be interesting to discover what were the communications between the Houston Area Pastors Council and “God Put Me Here to Stop this Ordinance” Kubosh.

  3. Greg Wythe says:

    I would have sworn his name was Felix!

  4. Paul Kubosh says:

    Maybe Feldman should drop a subpoena on Kubosh. Clearly all of the communications are relevant. The Mayor learned her lesson about Public votes when she lost the Red Light Camera fight. All of you far left Democrats are just like the far Right Republicans. Even when your elected officials do things that are just wrong you always stand behind them.

  5. Steven Houston says:

    Given the flaws in the petitions, catering to the religious right is not a big concern compared to the populist red light camera issue. Just as I think the entire ordinance was more of a feel good piece of fluff than anything else, the more the city tries to prevent a public vote on it, the more I wonder how out of touch city leaders are with the general population. If this is just about Parker wanting anything at all of a legacy of her term in office, it seems awfully wasteful for the small number of gender benders impacted.

  6. Paul Kubosh says:

    Steven, agreed. Can you imagine how bored I must be to go back to this website to see if there were anymore comments?

  7. Steven Houston says:

    I check in here and there to see what Kuff has posted more than for the responses but sometimes the responses are pure gold so I don’t mind wandering through as able. 🙂

  8. I can actually understand the subpoeans as part of a long-term game, per what Snopes notes about federal tax exemptions and electioneering by ministers.