Houston’s Subpoenaed Sermons

This story is all over the conservative blogosphere, but that doesn’t mean it can just be dismissed. As the Houston Chronicle reports:

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.

43 Comments for “Houston’s Subpoenaed Sermons”

  1. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    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.

    The news articles I’ve been able to dig out, including the one you cited, do not disclose the purpose of the subpoenas, and the City Attorney is standing mute. The ADF will file a motion to quash the subpoenas, the City will respond, and a judge will sort the matter out, all in good time. Meanwhile, it would be prudent to refrain from jumping to conclusions.

  2. posted by Mike in Houston on

    The city issued these subpoenas to get certain parties under oath about how they went about circulating petitions and gathering signatures – and in particular whether or not the instructions that they gave (from the pulpit and elsewhere) demonstrated that they did, in fact, fully understand the rules laid out in the city charter.

    None of the players in this normal discovery process want to be deposed under oath… because their basic argument is that REGARDLESS of their instructions (captured on video no less), their petitions should not be held to the same legal standard as anyone else, because, Jesus.

    I realize that if you take the word of the writers at Wing Nut Daily and the so-called “Alliance Defending Freedom” at face value – without digging further than the press release (like the Houston Chronicle did in this case), one might be concerned.

    Of course, being deposed for doing a citizens review of the petitions (which are public record) by the anti-HERO crowd and having your gmail accounts subpoenaed as a private citizen doesn’t get nearly the traction… The again, I’m not a pastor with a political agenda, tax-exempt bankroll & WND and the AD megaphones.

    • posted by Jim Michaud on

      Thank you Mike. I wanted someone who actually lives in Houston to clarify things. It’s a municipal level issue, not the purview of every nut out there. Stephen, please don’t take the word of every flaky person in the right wing scream machine as gospel. They have books to sell and ratings to keep up-you don’t.

  3. posted by Jorge on

    …Meanwhile, it would be prudent to refrain from jumping to conclusions.

    I agree. Attorneys are supposed to be vicious, dirty, and overreaching. It’s judges who are supposed to be fair. There’s no evidence the city attorneys are being political hacks or trampling on the Constitution. Besides, any apocalypse will hurt lefty churches far more than righty churches in the long run.

  4. posted by Mike in Houston on

    It’s called discovery folks… and there’s no mention of the subpoenas coming from the anti-HERO side that have targeted a whole range of city employees, private citizens, nonprofits and pastors who spoke out in favor of the ordinance (and assisted with the pro-HERO organization efforts.)

  5. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    It’s called discovery folks …

    Exactly. It is an ordinary part of the process in any civil lawsuit. If you want to know more about discovery in civil lawsuits, Nolo has an accurate description written for non-lawyers. My guess — again with the caution that it is prudent not to jump to conclusions — is that this is a tempest in a teapot.

    The fact that the religious right is using the subpoenas to whip up hysteria is not relevant to the legal process or the legal questions involved. If the subpoenas, or any question in the subpoenas, is too far-reaching or violates constitutional guarantees, the law provides a process — a motion to quash — to resolve it.

    • posted by Don on

      Organized political groups make their money by whipping up hysteria. Regardless of ideology. If no one is outraged, there is no reason to donate. And if you have to manufacture hysteria to keep the dollars rolling in, so be it.

  6. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    “Houston, we’ve got a problem …” aside for a moment, we had a number of legal developments in the marriage equality cases yesterday:

    ALASKA – The 9th Circuit set the briefing schedule for the Alaska appeal. The state’s briefs are due on January 21, 2015, and the response to those briefs is due 30 days later, in late February. In the 9th Circuit, which has decided three different cases in favor of marriage equality at this point (California, Idaho, Nevada), the court might have as well as said “Don’t waste our time …” by setting the briefing schedule so far into the future. Fast tracking, this is not. Marriages have begun in Alaska. During the appeal, marriages will not be stayed, in all likelihood. The District Court turned down Alaska’s motion for a stay last night, and we’ll have to wait and see how the 9th Circuit handles the stay request Alaska filed with them yesterday.

    IDAHO – Governor Bruce Otter, who indicated yesterday that the state would file an appeal, might be changing his mind, if this statement of late yesterday afternoon is an indication: “The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued its mandate for enforcement of decisions overturning the Idaho Constitution’s prohibition on same-sex marriage effective at 10 a.m. MDT, 9 a.m. PDT on Wednesday, October 15. I continue to believe that the federal courts are mistaken in abandoning the sanctity of traditional marriage and in undermining the will of Idaho voters and each state’s right to define marriage. But we are civil society that respects the rule of law. We have done all we can through the courts for now to defend traditional marriage in Idaho.” I don’t have a clue what the “for now” means – I assume that he is keeping his options (political and otherwise) open, but who knows? In any event, whatever Governor Otter finally decides about an appeal, marriages are ongoing.

    NORTH CAROLINA – District Judge William Osteen ruled yesterday afternoon that the legal team formed by Republican legislative leadership and NOM after the state declined to continue defending traditional marriage in North Carolina, had standing to intervene, if that is what it was determined to do. Not that the intervention will change anything. Judge Osteen essentially told the Republican/NOM team that it was wasting its time: “Notwithstanding some of the ongoing cases on a national level, this discussion is merely academic in this court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has issued its ruling in Bostic. As recognized by the district court in General Synod, this district court, sitting in North Carolina and the Fourth Circuit, is bound to apply that law. The parties to this case have the right to expect nothing less, whether they agree with the law or not.” Judge Osteen couldn’t make it clearer than that without entering a photo of a goat’s ass into evidence.

    SOUTH CAROLINA – District Judge Michelle Childs put the South Carolina case on a fast track. Briefs are due October 23, and replies November 13. Judge Childs indicated that IF the court decided that a hearing is needed, which is unlikely in light of the 4th Circuit’s decision in Bostic, the hearing will commence right around Thanksgiving. Unless the Judge orders a hearing, she will render a decision based on the briefs and replies. South Carolina is the holdout state in the 4th Circuit, and the result is inevitable for the reason that Judge Osteen stated in the North Carolina case. That a decision is likely right around Thanksgiving brings to mind an adage that South Carolina’s Republican officials might find relevant — “when you go to Thanksgiving dinner, eat the turkey, don’t be the turkey”.

  7. posted by Barbara on

    ICCannot understand the big deal here. Sermons are public proclamations of the Gospel; that is their whole purpose. It’s utterly bizarre to complain that somebody actually wants to look at them….

    • posted by Craig123 on

      Regardless of any (arguable) legal merits for the supoenaes, as Stephen noted, “sorry, this looks awful.” How politically tone deaf the city attorneys must be not to see that. Or, again as Stephen suggests, the just don’t understand that churches and other faith communities are different from secular political action committees (and if we are going to hold conservative churches to account, we should do the same with liberal churches, which we certainly do not and never would ).

      • posted by Barbara on

        A person who gets up in a pulpit to preach want people to read/see/hear what you have to say. As many people as possible.

        There is no reason whatsoever to object here. These aren’t private writings; there are public by their very nature. They’ve already been spoken aloud, in fact – and many if not most preachers record them and put them up on church websites.

        It’s an entirely absurd “controversy.”

        • posted by Barbara on

          “A person who gets up in a pulpit to preach wants people to read/see/hear what they have to say,” it should say, obviously…..

        • posted by Barbara on

          And I would suggest that anybody who’s objecting doesn’t themselves understand what churches are about, or what sermons are for.

          Or else, that it’s a slow news day and people need something to talk about. Particularly people engaged in culture warring…..

      • posted by Aubrey Haltom on

        @ Craig123 – did you read what Mike in Houston wrote? Yes, this must ‘look awful’ – if you want it to look awful. Stephen’s writing on this subject is incredibly disappointing. We see in Stephen’s harangue re: ‘only liberal churches get to be political’, etc.. a complete disregard for what is actually happening in this situation.
        Rather, Miller gives us a template for how the anti-gay crowd will run with this. Miller’s paragraph starting “so why issue subpoenas for sermons…” could have been written by Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, etc…
        Stephen’s aversion to the facts of the matter (the subpoenas are for conservative and progressive churches, for civil employees, etc…) while shilling the anti-gay meme should give him some pause.
        But his disdain for anything seemingly ‘progressive’ is so great that facts don’t seem to matter anymore.
        Or perhaps this is all just click bait, and we take the bite every time. 🙂

        • posted by Houndentenor on

          the issue is not “liberal churches”. That was a very carefully selected term to hide the real issue and it is a real one. As someone who is in what Stephen would probably consider a liberal church almost every Sunday working as a musician (Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist or Presbyterian usually) I never hear political sermons. Ever. What does happen is politics in the African American churches. Historically there’s a reason for that which is well known. Before the last few decades the only places African Americans were allowed to congregate in much of the south were churches. There was no place else for them to organize, politically or otherwise. But that’s no longer true and the case that we often give a free pass to political meetings and speeches given in predominantly black churches, HOWEVER so long as we don’t do anything about ministers openly flouting the tax law by endorsing candidates from the pulpit in fundamentalist churches, that complaint rings hollow. Such violations should result in the loss of tax exemptions for those churches regardless of which candidates are endorsed and the ethnicity of the congregation. I don’t expect that to happen so unless Stephen is with me on enforcement on the law, his comment is a sick joke.

      • posted by Don on

        I’m not so sure about that. One of the dances the churches have been making for years is around “political action.” God compels us to cherish the environment; God compels that every life is sacred – that’s one thing. Vote for John Smith because he will fulfill God’s commandments on environment/abortion is something entirely different. and a no-no.

        I do not think the right and left are anywhere close to equal in religious organizing for political power. How many articles have been written about the power of liberal religious leaders threatening politicians and moving the debate? I’m 44 and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. Can anyone think of a time when there was a liberal issue moved forward by religious leaders at the forefront?

        I sure can’t.

        So, no. 1/3 of the right would collapse if there were a ban on religious organizing of voters. I’m thinking maybe 2% of the left would have a little more trouble with voter turnout. Not at all a close race there.

        • posted by Mark J on

          I generally agree with you that this is much more a problem on the right than the left these days, but in answer to your question of a liberal issue moved forward by religious leaders, I’m going with Obvious for the win: REV. Martin Luther King.

          • posted by Don on

            oh, I’d give that one to you. but it’s been 50 years.

            still, black churches would qualify. but not by the same magnitude. I’m with Hound. Been to quite a few liberal churches. closest they ever get to political speech is a sermon about “fairness” and “compassion” that is so generalized you might miss that there is a political point at all.

        • posted by Tom Scharbach on

          The conservative Christian right doesn’t even bother to pretend that they aren’t using sermons for politics anymore. ““Freedom Sunday” has been an organized act of defiance for several years running, and is growing. The conservative Christian right wants to provoke a battle with the IRS over political organizing in churches, and so far (wisely, I think, in light of the composition of the Supreme Court), the IRS hasn’t called them on it.

      • posted by Houndentenor on

        When churches are acting as political action groups, then they are subject to the rules (including taxation rules) of such groups, not those of religious organizations. Also, there is nothing private about a sermon. It’s not as if they asked to read the church’s emails or tap their phones. These ministers said these things in services where anyone could have attended. They are not private.

      • posted by Houndentenor on

        So churches can file frivolous lawsuits against the city but the city shouldn’t gather information for the case? Is that how it’s supposed to work?

  8. posted by Mike in Houston on

    As someone who is near ground-zero on this (and one that may potentially deposed or called as a witness), I’ll be happy to provide as much objective information on the what is happening with regards to passage of HERO, the subsequent petition drive (organized by the plaintiffs and the pastors under subpoena), City of Houston Charter provisions on repeal referenda, the independent citizens’ review of said petitions which came to the same conclusion as the City Attorney & City Secretary on the petition validity, the lawsuit (including the players on both sides) and the latest stirred up controversy about basic discovery processes. Click reply and leave your question!

  9. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    A quick update on South Carolina: Lambda Legal has filed a second marriage equality case in federal court, following the statement yesterday by Governor Haley and AG Wilson that the state would fight to the bitter end. Condon v. Haley will join the existing South Carolina case (Bradacs v. Haley) referenced in my note above.

    The existing case, Bradacs, involves recognition of an out-of-state marriage, while the new case, Condon, involves an in-state couple seeking to marry in South Carolina. Decisions in both cases will avoid setting up a Missouri situation, where out-of-state marriages are recognized by in-state couples cannot marry.

    This is clean-up work, given the 4th Circuit decision and subsequent cert denial by the Supreme Court, but South Carolina state officials seem determined not to surrender until they have been beat over the head twice, so beat them over the head twice the lawyers will do.

  10. posted by Houndentenor on

    The groups trying to repeal Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance, one that most cities even half Houston’s size have had for decades now, didn’t get enough signatures. Moreover it appears that there was fraud involved in the petitions to get the repeal on the ballot. Churches engaged in criminal activity should not be allowed to use religion to shield themselves from investigation. Of course the right-wing media exploded with this because they are trying to make it sound like churches are going to be prosecuted for being anti-gay. That’s just a lie. And outright lie and one that the people promoting it KNOW is a lie, but it appeals to low-information religious extremists who love their persecution complexes, so why not just lie to them and pocket their money? It’s revolting and it’s also disgusting that Stephen would be standing up for this nonsense, but then anything against liberals is fair game in the twisted world of the homocons.

    • posted by Mike in Houston on

      This is one of the pastors: http://vimeo.com/98676462 — he actually doesn’t have a church, but is a full-time staffer for the “Houston Area Pastors Council” — a political front group for 2nd Baptist & Ed Young. The plaintiffs absolutely do not want to have him deposed. (See 6:30 on the video for why the petitions were found to be invalid; 7:30 when he talks about the “deposition test”.)

      • posted by Houndentenor on

        Thanks. It’s good to have facts rather than the typical conservative hysteria that’s all over right wing media and social media today (enough to make me think about another purge of old friends who are now right wing loons).

        It should also be noted (I know this from living in Houston again for a year recently) that Parker is a very popular and highly effective mayor (and rarity for the city) whose only real opposition is from anti-gay bigots. It was about the only argument the fundamentalist ministers could come up with for not re-electing her since even they have to admit that she’s done a great job as mayor.

      • posted by Jorge on

        (See 6:30 on the video for why the petitions were found to be invalid; 7:30 when he talks about the “deposition test”.)

        Seems pretty legit to me. Are you suggesting the petition gatherers weren’t as careful as he instructed them to be, or that he gave them bad instructions about the bureaucratic rules?

        • posted by Houndentenor on

          I’m claiming that the churches are suing the city and should have expected to be under scrutiny as the city prepares to defend itself from their frivolous lawsuit.

  11. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    And yet another: Lawyers in Majors v. Jeanes (Arizona) filed a petition in federal court today seeking summary judgment in accord with the 9th Circuit decisions. Arizona AG Tom Horne declined to comment on whether the state’s response will give it up or bring it on.

    BTW, I have a news flash for Caleb Rhodes, president of the University of Arizona College Republicans, who was quoted in the Arizona Daily Wildcat yesterday:

    “I believe that within 10 years, marriage equality will be a reality in Arizona,” Rhodes said. “I think it will be incredibly positive for the university and all of Arizona.”

    You got the second half of the sentence right, kid. Look for marriage equality by the end of the year. The game is over in Arizona, and has been since the 9th Circuit ruling.

  12. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    And finally, today, the Montana ACLU filed a motion for summary judgment in Rolando v. Fox. We’ll have to wait and see how AG Tim Fox responds to the motion. Montana and Arizona are the only holdouts in the 9th Circuit at this point. I’m hoping that the 9th Circuit will be wrapped up by Thanksgiving.

  13. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    The Washington Post reports that Houston issued the following statement this afternoon:

    Mayor Parker agrees with those who are concerned about the city legal department’s subpoenas for pastor’s sermons. The subpoenas were issued by pro bono attorneys helping the city prepare for the trial regarding the petition to repeal the new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in January. Neither the mayor nor City Attorney David Feldman were aware the subpoenas had been issued until yesterday. Both agree the original documents were overly broad. The city will move to narrow the scope during an upcoming court hearing. Feldman says the focus should be only on communications related to the HERO petition process.

    The scope of the subpoenas will be working out in court, as it should be. It looks like a younger lawyer in the city’s legal department followed a form filing without thinking.

    Speaking of not thinking, I wrote in another thread that state Supreme Court decisions deciding a substantial constitutional question could be appealed as of right to the United States Supreme Court. I was dead wrong. That was true when I learned civil procedure (circa 1969), and was the reason why the Supreme Court issued the one-sentence opinion in Baker, but it is no longer true. Federal law was revised in 1988 to eliminate mandatory jurisdiction. Accordingly, if the Florida Supreme Court elects to decide whether or not the federal constitution mandates marriage equality in Florida, the Supreme Court can grant cert, or not, in an appeal of that decision, just as is the case when an appeal comes from one of the federal circuits.

  14. posted by Houndentenor on

    LOL at the “hobby” comment. I know people from a wide range of religions and denominations as well as people with a wide range of hobbies. The comparison is indeed inappropriate since people are far less likely to be as hypocritical in their hobbies as they are in their religious beliefs.

  15. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    The 9th Circuit granted a temporary stay in the Alaska case. The stay will remain in effect until noon on Friday, giving state officials time to seek a stay from the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court doesn’t issue a stay by noon on Friday, the 9th Circuit stay will “dissolve” and the state will be under mandate to continue to issue marriage licenses.

  16. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Update. Damage control: Houston mayor criticizes city lawyers’ subpoenas of sermons.

    I have no doubt that Mayor Parker is doing damage control at this point, but that does not mean that her statement (neither she nor the city counsel was personally aware that the interrogatory called for production of sermons) is not accurate.

    I don’t buy the conservative meme that Mayor Parker was playing politics with the subpoena. I suspect that a staff lawyer was filling out a routine interrogatory form and added the word “sermon”, sent if off to be typed, and an overworked city counsel staff reviewing the interrogatory didn’t give the implications much, if any, thought. Anyone who has practiced law for any length of time knows how easily that sort of thing can happen in a lawsuit.

    The interrogatory may (or may not) be overreaching, depending on the nature of the allegations and/or the relevant facts. Mike in Houston may know the allegations and the relevant facts, but none of the rest of us do. Whatever those may be, the scope of the interrogatory is a question that could easily have been handled by a motion to quash (again a routine aspect of discovery), in court, by lawyers and the judge. Instead, the Houston pastors and the ADF went to the press and politicized the issue.

    My question, looking at all this, is why ADF and the Houston pastors chose the political route rather than the legal route. Thinking about it, I don’t think that the answer is all that difficult to figure out. Politicizing the interrogatory rather than going through the legal process serves several ends of religious conservatives.

    We’ll be hearing about this for a long time, I suspect. The issue will be a prime example for the “crazed bull dykes want to put you in jail” meme pushed by religious conservatives, and conservative sympaticos will sing the companion melody that “progressive” gays and lesbians are hard-eyed opponents of “religious liberty”. So be it. Bring it on, Stephen.

    • posted by Mike in Houston on

      The ADF is playing politics with the subpoenas because it’s in a legally weak position in their lawsuit against the city… it’s really the only card that they have to play and make it sound like the City is forcing every anti-gay pastor in Houston to “turn over their sermons”.

      This just the latest round of discovery — and the plaintiffs really want to keep the following anti-HERO petition organizers away from being deposed under oath:
      Magda Hermida – Magda Hermida Ministries (petition drop-off)
      Hernan Castano – ‎Director of Hispanic Church Development at Houston Area Pastor Council
      Khan Huynh – Houston Area Pastors Council
      Steve Riggle – Grace Church (petition drop-off & notary location; petitions circulated during services)
      David Welch – U.S. Pastors Council / Houston Area Pastors Council

      Here’s some of the timeline & facts as to why these 5 people were targets for discovery:

      The City passed the HERO back in May. It was certified & published on June 3rd. Any repeal petition would have to be completed and turned in within 30 days of this date… and have 17,269 valid signatures.
      For a signature to be valid, the signer had to be a registered voter in the City of Houston.
      For a petition page to be valid, the circulator had to have signed the petition at some point prior to circulating it, signed an affirmation at the bottom and have the page notarized.
      Before the ink was dry on the ordinance, the HERO repeal petition was being printed up and distributed through the Houston Area Pastors Council and their web site which went live on May 29th.
      There was a big push at Steve Riggle’s Grace Church to gather signatures on the first weekend of June as well as at the churches of the other pastors mentioned in the lawsuit. (Since this was prior to the ordinance being published it had the effect of invalidating several hundred signatures and a few hundred signature pages).
      Dave Welch, the leader of the Houston Area Pastors Council and one of the principle organizers of the repeal petition drive (as well as chief media spokesman during the HERO debate) did a training session for the HAPC detailing the petition process and soliciting churches to provide petition circulators, drop-off locations, notary services, etc. – see http://vimeo.com/98676462
      Grace Church (Steve Riggle) was a principle drop off center for petitions and provided free notary services.
      All the pastors named in this round of discovery were involved every press conference about the repeal petition and each spoke at length about their involvement.
      On July 2, the HAPC turned in 7 boxes to the City Secretary containing 5247pages of petitions to great fanfare (See Dave Welch, et al) and claimed over 55,000 signature — 30K that they had already verified as meeting the standards for validation of the city.
      The City Secretary began reviewing the petition signatures. The City Attorney began reviewing the petitions for completeness.
      After receiving a FOIA copy of the petition from the City on July 10th, an independent group of citizens (of which I was a member and leader) crowd-sourced a review of the petitions.
      We presented our preliminary findings to City Council on July 29th and a final report on August 1. — We found that the petition organizers did not, in fact, meet the 17,269 target because of numerous errors that invalidated hundreds of pages and thousands of signatures. We also found numerous inconsistencies in what had been turned in, as well as clear evidence of fraud in some cases.This effort was ENTIRELY independent of the City.
      On Monday, August 4th, Mayor Parker announced that the petition drive had failed.
      There was an immediate lawsuit which bounced around for the next few days until a trial date was set for January 19, 2015
      The plaintiffs main contention is that the City violated its charter by disqualifying the petitions contending that the requirements of the charter should not be binding on them. That is the basis of their lawsuit.
      The city (the party being sued) contends that it followed the charter and that the plaintiffs and affiliated parties were well aware of the requirements and that sufficient evidence of fraud and other irregularities existed to disqualify the petition.
      NOTE: I will admit to being the person who found the video of Dave Welch training people on the petition requirements and passing that along so it would get into the hands of the City Attorney… which kind of blows their whole “we didn’t know” schtick.

      What people who do not litigate are not seeing is that COH litigators have more info than we have. They have probably taken an initial round of discovery from the parties and it led to these things being things that would lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. This is a suit with tens of thousands of documents. No one is seeing it all except the lawyers. It is irresponsible to speculate about what people in litigation should do, because we don’t have the information to do that. I would urge people to trust that Judge Schaffer (the one who will preside over the case in January) will appropriately safeguard the rights of non-party witnesses, and if that fails, there is an appeals court or two or three available.

      Bottom line: the proper place to define the scope of discovery is in court not in the media.

      • posted by Tom Scharbach on

        Bottom line: the proper place to define the scope of discovery is in court not in the media.

        Exactly. Thanks, BTW, for the solid background information you’ve been providing, Mike. It puts the lie to the loudmouths like Tony Perkins and Ted Cruz who are milking this for all it is worth.

    • posted by Jorge on

      I don’t buy the conservative meme that Mayor Parker was playing politics with the subpoena.

      It would take a local to know for sure. You know how Barack Obama and Eric Holder give off this air of political favoritism, have had a fair number of irregularities and even scandals occur under their command, but have never actually done anything corrupt themselves? How corrupt a politician is is very difficult to measure precisely. There isn’t much of a difference between unethical behavior and the types of self-promotion and favoritism that makes one an effective servant to the public interest and to one’s community.

  17. posted by Mike in Houston on

    And everyone (including Stephen) needs to read this:
    Is Houston demanding oversight of pastors’ sermons? No.

    • posted by Jorge on

      “There is no doubt that the Mayor and City Council are radical and aggressive LGBT activists trying to advance their agenda against all morality and the will of the people in the actual subject matter behind these headlines. But the actual case does not warrant these alarming headlines, and our activists ought to be more responsible.”

      Oh. Well like I just said.

      “The Mayor is an open lesbian and LGBT activist. The City Council recently passed an ordinance that would allow transgenders to cross bathrooms in public. Predictable and rightful outrage ensued from Christians and conservatives. A local group of 400 pastors opposed the measure. Some of them apparently have connections with a petition drive, organization, coordination, and possibly even funding of the petition drive to overturn the ordinance.

      But what bothers me most here are the fear-mongering headlines. This is not an attack on all Houston area pastors, and no impression should be allowed in that regard. It is a routine court procedure, not even final yet, against a handful a pastors—and only because they are implicated in a court case filed.

      But here’s the kicker in this particular case: as with all cases, all parties and their lawyers knew these rules before they filed suit. The city’s move should have been no surprise to anyone. They should have expected it—especially from liberal activists, who as we all know, are ruthless, restless, and play dirty.”

      Mmm-hmm. In other words, he’s trying to suggest that opposing the gay rights movement is not an undertaking for cowards. It is quite hypocritical and detrimental for people to claim they are taking public action and standing on principle for very important reasons, and then to complain about the effort and sacrifice necessary to see a social conflict through to its conclusion.

      The correct response to watching someone’s reputation unfairly destroyed is not to destroy the attacker before he has a chance to strike, but to better withstand the attack and win the straight-out fight.

      Hmm… I’m sympathetic, but I’m undecided enough about this train of thought that I am not going to support this article just yet.

  18. posted by George Worthington (in Houston) on

    6.25 million people live in Houston. Many of us are gay or gay-supportive and a very large number of those people worked hard to get HERO passed. Stephen H. Miller should mind his own business and complicate his own life and leave the rest of us alone. Though Joel McDurmon (at American Vision) is an anti-LGTB bigot, at least he’s got the point of this discovery correct, a point made by other readers of this blog, but which Mr. Miller has been unable to grasp:

    “Several people have contacted me over the recent Fox News headline, “City of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons.” WND.com was even broader: “Houston demands oversight of sermons.” There is no doubt that the Mayor and City Council are radical and aggressive LGBT activists trying to advance their agenda against all morality and the will of the people in the actual subject matter behind these headlines. But the actual case does not warrant these alarming headlines, and our activists ought to be more responsible.

    I write this only to calm some of the unnecessary alarm, and to introduce some reason and understanding into the mix. The headlines read as if the city has made some move to start monitoring all pastors’ sermons, and this simply is not the case. It also gives the impression that this is some out-of-the-blue, general attack tactic by the activists upon the pulpit. It is not. It is not out-of-the-blue, it is not broad and general as far as the implicated pastors goes, and it should not be a surprise at all.

    The City is not making a move to monitor sermons. The city is merely responding to a lawsuit against it and using standard powers of discovery in regard to a handful of pastors who are implicated as relevant to the lawsuit. The issue is here: once you file a lawsuit, you open up yourself and potentially your friends and acquaintances to discovery. This is the aspect that has not been reported, but it is an important part of the context. This is basic court procedure. But the headlines make it sound like a surprise attack by leftists advancing their agenda on unsuspecting Christians.”

    All of us — like Stephen Miller — have opinions. The goal ought to be to have an opinion informed by the facts. Mr. Miller posted a blog completely unaided by any knowledge of the facts. In fact, he took the Christianist meme almost idea and POV for idea and POV. And that is just making the work on the ground in Houston — where Mr. Miller doesn’t live and where I hope he never visits — that much harder.

  19. posted by tom Jefferson. on

    If the sermon are viewpoints protected by the First Amendment, just about any belief, idea opinion or viewpoint is, then that ain’t gonna be the legal issue.

    It seems to me that the issue here is whether or not the petitioning process (designed to allow local citizens to repeal a law) was properly followed/had enough valid signatures by the group seeking the repeal.

    Basically, (from what I read here and elsewhere)

    The city said it wasn’t, and the group sued. Now what was said/done in regards to the petitioning drive is relevant because the rules governing the petitioning process are (probably) Constitutional, and if a group doesn’t follow the rules, the repeal petition will not work.

    Now I cannot say whether the city law that they sought to repeal is a good or bad, because I haven’t read it and I don’t live their. That’s not really the issue

    Were the petitioning rules followed, as established by the city, or not?

  20. posted by tom Jefferson. on

    I disappointed that Arizona is holding out on marriage equality. I have family ties with Tucson and the Phoenix areas, which tend to be pretty “blue” or purple in terms of voting. More so then the rest of the State.

  21. posted by Tom Jefferson III on

    As an aside…I have mixed feelings about what the courts — State and Federal appellate — have said about how complicated/difficult the petitioning process can be.

    Basically, we see — in election law cases — petitioning rules for candidates/political parties or something like an I&R or recall process. The courts tend to defer to the legislators and that is not always a good idea.

    The group arguing in court that their petition to repeal the law was valid, may try to challenge the rules themselves — substantive case law — in addition to questions of whether or not the rules were followed — more procedural.

    However, it [arguing that the Constitution requires a more lenient or easy set of petitioning rules] is not one that gets far in court.

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