Houston Already Backing Off Its Church Sermon Subpoenas


Annise Parker
Credit: Zblume

This morning I noted that the City of Houston had taken on an unusual tactic in fighting religious leaders who spoke out in opposition to a gay and transgender antidiscrimination law and gathered signatures to force a vote: The city was attempting a huge subpoena demanding any sort of communication or sermons from these leaders that discussed the ordinance, the petition and any reference to gay issues, gender issues or Mayor Annise Parker.

The actual fight is over whether the opponents of the law had gathered enough valid signatures and followed the law properly when doing so, but the information requested from the subpoena (pdf) went way beyond anything related to the signature-gathering process and appeared to be trying to police the content of what religious leaders said.

It seems to have blown up magnificently, and now the city is backtracking just a little bit. Mayor Parker's spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal this afternoon:

Mayor Parker agrees with those who are concerned about the city legal department's subpoenas for pastor's sermons.  The subpoenas were issued by pro bono attorneys helping the city prepare for the trial regarding the petition to repeal the new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in January.  Neither the mayor nor City Attorney David Feldman were aware the subpoenas had been issued until yesterday.  Both agree the original documents were overly broad.  The city will move to narrow the scope during an upcoming court hearing.  Feldman says the focus should be only on communications related to the HERO petition process.

The headline for the Journal post says that the mayor was surprised that the subpoenas included their sermons. Her Twitter feed seemed to suggest otherwise yesterday:


(Hat tip to Cato's Walter Olson for the update)

NEXT: Poll: 35% Say Obama Has Handled Foreign Policy Better Than George W. Bush; Americans Who Were 20-Somethings in 2003 More Critical of Bush

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Well bless her little heart She just had no idea what her evil lawyers were up to.

    1. There is a word floating around in my head…begins with a c…

      1. You forgot the word Thunder

        1. and Raging

          1. Damnit you’re delightfully correct

    2. Just now read about it in the paper. Very presidential.

      1. dammit…beat me to the punch..line.

    3. that’s future presidential material right there, not knowing about something till it hits the papers.

  2. “Neither the mayor nor City Attorney David Feldman were aware the subpoenas had been issued until yesterday. Both agree the original documents were overly broad. ”


    They really think the public is stupid.

    I guess overall they are right.

    She is in office.

    1. Neither the mayor nor City Attorney David Feldman were aware the subpoenas had been issued until yesterday. Both agree the original documents were overly broad.

      Annise Parker Verified account ?@AnniseParker
      If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?-A

      So she was for it before she was against it?

    2. She’s a lying cunt that got caught.

  3. I’m going to put on my political cynic hat and guess that the leading black churches in the city vigorously expressed their disapproval to the mayor’s office. Big city Democratic politics is all about patronage, and the folks really in charge aren’t going to let something like this put the gravy train in danger.

    1. This sounds right to me. I’d be willing to bet money that’s what happened.

    2. Possibly, but she also beat out the Black liberal Dem in the past election. She gets elected because shes a moderate on business issues and business knows a Rep won’t get elected (plus the Rep this past time was an insane idiot) so they support her (as they did Bill white) over the more liberal dems who run (no primary so they all run together in the general).

      She did describe herself as social liberal/fiscal conservative before she was mayor. This has become less true over 3 terms.

  4. Please tell me I’m not the only one who read that as Church Semen Subpoenas.

    1. No, you’re the only one.

  5. Those pastors were looking at this all wrong. The 1st Amendment was only standing in the way of saving city officials through those godly sermon transcripts.

  6. Pulpits are used for politics, get over it. Politics is a central feature in Black churches around the country, and always has been.

    I don’t have a problem with it. However, progressives get their knickers in a twist the instant they suspect a conservative church might be urging its members to vote a certain way.

    Separation of Church and State means the state leaves the churches alone.

    1. Separation of church and state made sense at a time where most people had a theistic religion which could easily be distinguished from the functions of government, but the emergence of political religions and a corresponding clerisy has screwed everything up. We have exactly the problem that the church/state divide was meant to fix, but no clear understanding of how to repair it, and a side that benefits enough from the status quo to scuttle any such attempts anyway.

    2. “Separation of Church and State means the state leaves the churches alone.”

      Perhaps the Churches should do the same and not ask for special tax privileges? That’s what this is about, the thing that gives the state the ‘in’ on what’s going on in the churches is they churches ask for and get special tax treatment by representing themselves as religious/not/political organizations.

      1. Sure, and libertarians should stop using the roads if they want lower taxes, because that’s what gives the state the ‘in’

        1. That’s not even remotely analogous. This is more like special HOV type lanes for religious organizations (or rather, organizations that represent themselves as non-political).

          1. Sure, under the premise that the government is owed that tax money and is giving it back by not taking it.

      2. “That’s what this is about”

        No actually, you stupid fucking asshole, in this case it’s about the state overstepping itself, in a way which has precisely fuckall with any tax responsibility.

      3. Perhaps the Churches should do the same and not ask for special tax privileges?

        Seriously? Churches get the same tax treatment as other non-profit organizations, including many which advocate on political issues.

      4. The state taxing the Church is the opposite of Separation of Church and State.

  7. Another demonstration that the only people who should use the Twitter, are stand up comedians.

    I can’t imagine in anyway, sending out to the world, the first dumbass thing that pops in my head, would be to my benefit.

    Why the public affairs people paid by politicians allow them to twit is a mystery. The mayor’s are probably pro bonos.

  8. I won’t hope for a recall of their new mayor, but this should help her on her way to a single term. What an absolute piece of shit. And to think, there are quite a few folks out there who think the world would be significantly less violent and more prosperous if her ilk ruled over all.

    1. The world will be a better place with her kind in charge. They only need to get rid of the intolerant (and a few other obstinate groups)

      1. They only need to get rid of the intolerant

        so they’re going to commit suicide?

        1. Well the bad intolerant ones. They are the good intolerants ones

    2. This is her third and final term, and this issue aside she’s not been that terrible.

      1. I mean you mention “prosperous” and she’s time and office has seen Houston have arguably the best growth in prosperity of any city in the country. Sure, she and government in general don’t create prosperity but she largely hasn’t gotten in the way either. For things I don’t like about her, overbroad subpoenas are way below wasting money on shitty light rail instead of fixing our shitty surface streets and her idiot tangling with Uber (which she gave up on after she let the taxi cartel have their bitch fit)

  9. In solid Church/Muslim temple states: use the ‘law’ to go after gay bars/gatherings/tax-exempt orgs to find out what those fuckers are sayin’.

    Should go down like easy-peasy, right?. Commented from a pro-gay marriage type…

  10. I really, really, really hate to agree with a troll, but I have to here. Tax exemptions- once you claim that, because an Invisible Sky Friend is invoked, and it’s an ISF approved by the State, you no longer have to pay the same taxes another group sans ISF is required to, the rules change. And to get that special ISF exemption, the rule is “no politics.”

    Pay taxes like everyone else (or even better, get rid of any tie-in of taxes to ISF) and the excuses for this sort of stupid shit go away.

    Claiming that tax exemptions are necessary for church-state separation is a peculiar form of inversion- the “legitimacy” of your ISF is subject to state scrutiny. Get rid of that exemption and your taxes are the same as any other group occupying the same building, whether your ISF is something the state likes or not.

    1. You’re ready to do that to the entire not-for-profit sector, or just churches?

      1. Exeryone. Or no-one; giving the government that sort of judgment authority is absolutely begging for arbitrary, capricious, mendacious, vicious results. Not to mention a multitude of rent-seeking industries in the business of tax and regulatory compliance, which create negative value-added.

        Sort of like what we have.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.