New Life Covenant Church in Chicago and Alliance Defending Freedom severely criticized the subpoena of various pastors' sermons in Houston, Texas, due to their objection to an LGBT discrimination city ordinance that was passed recently.
"It's a sad day in the United States of America, in the land of the free, when the First Amendment rights of religious leaders are being trampled on by a mayor for political gain and/or exposure," Wilfredo De Jesús, senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago, Illinois, said in a statement.
Houston's mayor, Annise Parker, has denied she knew about the city's attempt to subpoena the sermons and correspondence with their congregations of five pastors. But one of those pastors, Dave Welch, who is the executive director of the Houston area U.S. Pastor Council, told The Christian Post earlier that the mayor herself initiated the action in response to a legal battle over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.
"As an evangelical pastor, I have the responsibility to my church and the body of Christ to share the Gospel," De Jesús said. "These pastors have the same responsibility. I understand that what we preach may not be popular, it may not be politically relevant and it may offend people. Jesus is our example. He understood His call and proceeded to preach/teach the Good News until he was brutally crucified on the cross for His message."
The subpoenas were issued by Houston's city attorney in response to a lawsuit filed by opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, that allow men and women who identify as transgender or opposite sex to use the facilities such as restrooms of their choice.
What is not acceptable is a government body deploying "bullying tactics that perpetuate an environment of hate toward Christians and bigotry toward our Christian beliefs," Pastor De Jesús said, calling on all pastors to demand that the City of Houston and Mayor Parker "disengage from these frivolous subpoenas and issue a formal apology to help bring forth reconciliation."
Alliance Defending Freedom said the city's denial doesn't mean anything.
"The city of Houston still doesn't get it. It thinks that by changing nothing in its subpoenas other than to remove the word 'sermons' that it has solved the problem," ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said in a statement. "That solves nothing. Even though the pastors are not parties in this lawsuit, the subpoenas still demand from them 17 different categories of information – information that encompasses speeches made by the pastors and private communications with their church members."
The subpoenas are a problem in themselves, Stanley stressed, saying they must be rescinded entirely. "The city must respect the First Amendment and abandon its illegitimate mission to invade the private communications of pastors for the purpose of strong-arming them into silence in a lawsuit that concerns nothing more than the authenticity of citizen petitions."
The subpoenaed sermons incident derived from months of debate over the controversial ordinance.
The Houston City Council, Known as HERO, approved the ordinance in a vote of 11 to 6 in May. Mayor Parker was a strong proponent of the measure. It amended Chapters 2, 15 and 17 of Houston's Code of Ordinances, prohibiting discrimination in public facilities and private employment on the basis of "protected characteristics."
The list of protected characteristics included race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sex, familial and marital status, military status, disability, religion, genetic information, pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Welch told the CP that the subpoena was initiated by Mayor Parker, "who is obviously a noted, kind of, poster child for the national gay and lesbian movement, proposing this ordinance back in April that was really a massive overreach to begin with to basically add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the city's discrimination ordinance and impose those discrimination protections over the private sector in an unprecedented way."
Welch said that a petition was started by those opposed to the ordinance and although 50,000 signatures were gathered and 31,000 were pre-verified by the group, the city attorney intervened and said half were invalid after submission. The opponents of the ordinance then filed a lawsuit against the city.
"The petition was to have required the city council to repeal the 'equal rights' ordinance in its entirety or put it on the ballot to vote," Welch added. "They issued subpoenas to pastors that are not even privy to the lawsuit."