Although Houston's mayor, Annise Parker, is now denying she knew about the city's attempt to subpoena the sermons and correspondence with their congregations of five pastors, one of the pastors at the center of the battle says the mayor herself initiated the action in response to a legal battle over a non-discrimination ordinance known as the "Bathroom Bill."
Dave Welch, who is the executive director of the Houston area U.S. Pastor Council, is one of the five pastors who received a subpoena. Parker, who has participated in both gay and atheist activism, and the city are now back peddling from the subpoenas and blaming it on the law firm they hired, Welch told The Christian Post.
"This was really initiated by Mayor Annise 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 explained.
The subpoenas were issued by Houston's city attorney in response to the 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.
Welch told CP 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 said. "They issued subpoenas to pastors that are not even privy to the lawsuit."
Welch explained that the situation, which has now garnered national attention, has come to this point because churches in the Houston area "effectively rose up and did what the law allows us to do — petition our government to challenge this ordinance on the ballot."
"The bottom line from our perspective of these subpoenas is that they were an act of intimidation and harassment by the city through these law firms to bury us in this type of a demand in an attempt to shut us down, to try to run us out of time, will, or money to continue this lawsuit to its conclusion," he said. "So, they basically have no legal defense for their action. We will win this in court."
Welch continued, "So, this has really progressed from a disagreement over a bad law to a fundamental issue of voting rights, now an attack on first amendment rights by this mayor's administration.
"We are rallying and the great side of this is to see the overwhelming response even nationally now as this has become publicized about these subpoenas. We are going to continue to fight. The pastors of the city are resolute and unwavering. We fully intend to see this to its conclusion and continue to organize and bring the pastors together to hold our government accountable."
He said the mayor-led action in Houston "represents the general attack against the foundational Judeo-Christian order of our culture. We are now at the point where we are arguing over what's male and female. There's a much bigger picture than the ordinance itself and what this is really about. It's now morphed into a much bigger battle."
Welch views the political landscape in Houston as a battle between belief systems. He said he wants to continue keeping "pastors and the churches on the battlefield both for choosing good leaders in office and also holding those leaders accountable to a standard of decency and integrity."
"We do recognize that we are the latest in a series of skirmishes across the nation in this battle, but the encouraging part is that we are committed to stopping this here and now and hoping to turn the tide back, if the Lord permits, to restore the moral foundations. We are not going to let this radical agenda succeed and basically undermine our families and our freedom," he said.