Monday, October 20, 2014

The First Amendment, Harassment and Leftist Overreach

The other day, Qman brought up the ongoing news story about subpoenas served on five pastors of Houston churches for their position on … well, we’re not sure now exactly. The City is evidently fishing for something:
“The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.”
“Homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker” cuts a fairly broad swath, but Fox News is already calling it a “war over religious liberty”. Five specific pastors have been named and are collectively represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a law firm that specializes in cases to do with religious liberty.

Attorney Christina Holcomb says:
“The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions. Political and social commentary is not a crime; it is protected by the First Amendment.”
The latter statement is something most of us believe, and which the pastors involved almost surely relied on.

Christianity Today now reports that subpoenas a little more limited in scope have been issued in replacement of those originally served on the pastors. The new ones drop the reference to sermons, among other things:
“The word ‘sermon’ has been removed, as well as the requests for pastors’ teachings on sexuality and gender identity. The subpoenas still list all speeches, presentations, documents, text messages, emails, and other communication related to the ordinance, the petition, and their campaign to collect signatures.”
Mayor Parker tweeted the following:
“City just refilled [sic] subpoenas in #HERO. Clarified our intent. No mention of sermons. All about petition process instructions. -A
“Never intended to interfere w/ pastors & their sermons or an intrusion on religion. Our discovery motion now clearly focused on petition.”
The mostly vitriolic responses to Parker’s tweets make for an amusing read. Rightly perceiving the move as damage control after a bit of the usual ill-considered leftist overreach, many of those who commented declined to buy the line that the City is refiling primarily for the purposes of “clarification”:
“2 refile w/in few days smacks of not having clear case @ start”
— CPR for America @cprforamerica
The mayor insists that the subpoenas were prepared without her review by attorneys working pro bono for the city, effectively offloading the responsibility for any offensive wording on the lawyers. However, she had earlier tweeted:
“If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.”
so her protestations may seem a little disingenuous.

What is not so clearly understood by many observers outside of Houston is the reason the subpoenas were issued in the first place. Some (many of the tweeters responding to Parker, for instance) seem to view them as a random attack on Christians by militant leftists who just happen to have a mayor in their pocket. In fact, the subpoenas are a direct response to the political actions of the five named pastors, who in August sued the mayor and the City over a rejected petition against the City’s new Equal Rights Ordinance, which grants transgender people the right to use either the men’s or women’s restroom in businesses and public buildings (not including churches), among other things.

As such, the subpoenas may be charitably viewed as a necessary part of the legal process, though one could reasonably argue that they go well beyond what is necessary for the purposes of defending the lawsuit and potentially establish a very dangerous precedent.

Kyle Bryant, a Christian lawyer in Houston, puts it in perspective:
“… The reality is that we are merely dealing with an overbroad discovery request from a zealous trial lawyer employed by the city. So the sky is not falling. This is not a government-wide ‘approval’ system of pulpit messages. The pastors aren’t being threatened with punishment merely for the contents of their sermons.”
Fair enough, one might think. But Bryant adds this cautionary note:
“But this is harassment, and the small things add up. A government that tries to intimidate pastors who would seek to employ the democratic process to repeal a morally questionable piece of legislation is no friend of liberty, religious or otherwise.”
Agreed. But we kinda know this, don’t we. We’re not there yet, but governments, even those with a tenuous historical connection to principles found in the word of God, have often wrongly concluded that Christians and the plain teaching of the Bible are enemies of the public good. The early church had its share of persecution; Christians in many countries, including some of our readers, are undoubtedly in danger currently because of what they believe; and who knows how many believers have died for their faith over the centuries. This may or may not be a sign of things to come, but it would be wise for believers to take note of what’s happening in Houston.

It may not change what we preach. It shouldn’t. We ought to obey God rather than men whenever men are determined to encroach on holy ground. The Bible says what it says and we ought to teach and preach it with confidence from the platform and in our opportunities for personal testimony.

But it should not come as a surprise to us if at some point in the near future we have to pay a price for it.


  1. Quite right, Tom. There is a price to pay as this type of thing expands, as shown in this latest news article.

    I thought you might be interested in this article.
    TODD STARNES City eyes jail for clergy who won't perform gay nuptials:

  2. As a follow up, here is an article and information on what marriage really is about.

    I thought you might be interested in this article.
    Sex and the Synod: Focusing on the beauty of marriage and its value: