Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists that have sued the city.
Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldman wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. City attorneys issued subpoenas last month during the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all 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.”
Houston, in deeply conservative Texas, is the largest American city with an openly gay or lesbian mayor, and she has championed the anti-discrimination measure. Well and good, but sorry, this looks awful, as if they are trying to embody the charge that the true objective of LGBT activism is to outlaw the expression of disagreement with the LGBT rights agenda, especially by churches.
So why issue subpoenas for the ministers’ sermons? It makes sense, maybe, if you view churches as nothing but political action committees that happen to meet in buildings with stained glass windows—and/or you think (1) only liberal churches should be able to advocate on political issues, and (2) freedom of speech means the right to engage in speech that supports progressive activism.
As Megan McArdle wrote last summer discussing the contraceptive/abortifacient mandate: “The secular left views [religion] as something more like a hobby… That emotional disconnect makes it hard for the two sides to even debate; the emotional tenor quickly spirals into hysteria as one side says “Sacred!” and the other side says, essentially, “Seriously? Model trains?”
Update. Damage control: Houston mayor criticizes city lawyers’ subpoenas of sermons.
More. Walter Olson blogs: Scorched-pew litigation: Houston subpoenas pastors’ sermons:
Massively overbroad discovery demands are among the most common abuses in civil litigation, and it’s hard to get judges or policymakers to take seriously the harm they do. But the City of Houston, represented by litigators at Susman Godfrey, may have tested the limits when it responded to a lawsuit against the city by a church-allied group by subpoenaing the pastors’ sermons along with all their other communications.
Furthermore. Mayor’s decision to drop subpoenas fails to quell criticism. This will be a millstone around her neck, and quite probably the end of any further political aspirations.