City of Houston Subpoenas Sermons

NRB and many others were alarmed this week by the City of Houston’s subpoena of local pastors’ church sermons.  “This inquisition by the City of Houston is unconstitutional,” declared Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB.  “The government has no right to intimidate pastors in the pulpit, or, quite frankly, to squelch anyone’s free religious expression and free speech. Period.”

The catalyst here was the City of Houston’s legal defense of the relatively new and controversial “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).” The City sent its demand for an expansive list of communications from five pastors not party to a lawsuit against the ordinance.  Item 12 in the subpoena would compel these pastors to turn over “[a]ll 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.”  If the pastors refuse, they could potentially face fines or imprisonment. 

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose hometown is Houston, was particularly vocal on behalf of the pastors. He declared, “This is wrong. It's unbefitting of Texans, and it's un-American. The government has no business asking pastors to turn over their sermons. These subpoenas are a grotesque abuse of power, and the officials who approved them should be held accountable by the people. The Mayor should be ashamed.”

Additionally, Texas Attorney General Abbott also called on Houston to withdraw its subpoenas. In his letter, Attorney General Abbott stated, “The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”

Dr. Johnson further observed, “The First Amendment was enacted to protect pre-existing freedoms of religion and speech, known by our nation’s Founders to be gifts from God. I pray that Houston city officials respect the First Amendment, remember their liberty-loving Texas roots, and abandon this dangerous path.”

NRB Member Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a motion in court to quash these subpoenas.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: October 17, 2014

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