City Revises Subpoenas Seeking Pastors’ Sermons In HERO Lawsuit

It comes after a backlash by conservatives nationwide.


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Houston Mayor Annise Parker speaking at City Hall
Houston Mayor Annise Parker (with City Attorney David Feldman) announces revisions to the subpoenas in the lawsuit over the Equal Rights Ordinance.


The news about the city of Houston calling for pastors’ sermons as part of a lawsuit made the rounds quickly among conservatives nationwide — like Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News.

“It is a shocking story out of Texas,” Hannity said, “where the city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding that a group of pastors turn over their sermons as part of a battle to enforce and equal rights ordinance of the city.”

In a news conference to announce changes to the subpoenas, Mayor Annise Parker cited the strong media interest as a reason for the revisions.

“The disputed request has been narrowed to focus solely on communications related to HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) and the petition-gathering process,” Parker said. “There is no mention whatsoever of sermons or anybody’s feelings about homosexuality. This was always the intent of the subpoenas.”

The five pastors subpoenaed were organizers of an effort to collect signatures to put a referendum on the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance on the ballot. That effort ultimately fell short as thousands of signatures didn’t meet all requirements.

That’s what sparked the lawsuit against the city.

Parker said the point is to show that opponents knew the strict rules for gathering signatures in a case to repeal an ordinance.

“This is not about what anyone is preaching,” she said. “This is not about their religion. It’s not about the free exercise of religion. It is our right to defend the city and asking legitimate questions about the petition process.”

Both Parker and City Attorney David Feldman have said they didn’t know the content of the subpoenas until it was brought to their attention earlier this week.

Two Houston law firms are working for the city on this case pro-bono.

Parker has also said from the beginning that she would have worded it differently.

One of the five pastors is Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council. He said the modifications change nothing.

“Demanding still all of the same information overall and still all communications with our congregations and, is a sermon a speech? Who defines that? And presentation — is a sermon a presentation? You know, it’s smoke and mirrors and we’re not fooled by it.”

Parker said she doubts that the pastors talked about the petition process in any of their sermons, but if so, that would still be part of the subpoena.

The case is set for trial in January.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is the News 88.7 business reporter and also covers criminal justice, guns and shootings.Florian's stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of...

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