A group of pastors in Houston, Texas are now fighting to block subpoenas from the city's lawyers demanding that they turn over all sermons addressing homosexuality, gender identity or the city's first openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.
According to a statement from Alliance Defending Freedom, city officials in Houston are upset over a voter lawsuit filed after the Houston City Council rejected valid petitions to repeal the city's controversial, equal rights ordinance which, among other things, allows members of the opposite sex to use each other's restrooms.
"City council members are supposed to be public servants, not 'Big Brother' overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge," said ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley in the statement. "In this case, they have embarked upon a witch-hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it."
"The city's subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented," added ADF litigation counsel Christiana Holcomb. "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."
A FOX News op-ed explained that while the subpoenaed pastors are not party to the lawsuit opposing the ordinance, they were among a coalition of 400 Houston-area churches that expressed their disapproval of the ordinance.
Mayor Parker's office refused to comment on the subpoena's and why she wants to inspect the sermons on the pastors, saying it was an ongoing legal matter, but the mayor did post this comment to her Twitter feed: "If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game."
ADF argued in the FOX News report that the intention is to perhaps paint the preachers as anti-gay bigots.
Steve Riggle, senior pastor of Grace Community Church is one of the subpoenaed pastors. He told FOX News that he was ordered to present all speeches and sermons related to Mayor Parker, homosexuality and gender identity. He was also requested to produce "all communications with members of your congregation" pertaining to the ordinance.
"This is an attempt to chill pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day," Riggle noted in the FOX report. "The mayor would like to silence our voice. She's a bully."
Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to get their day in court next January to argue their claim that City attorney David Feldman incorrectly concluded that they did not gather enough signatures to add the issue to the ballot, explained FOX News.
The Houston Chronicle reported that opponents of the ordinance had launched a petition that generated more than 50,000 signatures which was well above the 17,269 signatures needed to put the ordinance on the ballot.
Plaintiff Jared Woodfill told the Houston Chronicle that the subpoenas impinge on protected religious freedoms.
"This is the city trampling on the First Amendment rights of pastors in their churches," he said.