Monday, October 20, 2014

Houston Subpoenaed Sermons By Religious Leaders Regarding Homosexuality

Her "excuse" to subpoena sermons

City subpoenas sermons against pastors for speeches on LGBT
By Katherine Driessen

October 14, 2014 | Updated: October 15, 2014 11:11am

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 who 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 as part of 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."

The subpoenas were issued to pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance: Dave Welch, Hernan Castano, Magda Hermida, Khanh Huynh and Steve Riggle. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization known for its role in defending same-sex "marriage" bans, filed a motion Monday on behalf of the pastors seeking to quash the subpoenas, and in a press announcement called it a "witch hunt."

The city's lawyers will face a high bar for proving the information in the sermons is essential to their case, said Charles Rhodes, a South Texas College of Law professor. The pastors are not named parties in the suit, and the "Church Autonomy Doctrine" offers fairly broad protections for internal church deliberations, he said.

Calling it an "unusual but not unprecedented" subpoena request, Rhodes said the city would stand a better chance of getting the sermons if it were a criminal case in which the message or directive in the sermons prompted a specific criminal action.

Still, he said, the city likely will get a boost because many of the sermons are broadcast or recorded and are intended to be shared with the public.

"This is unusual to see it come up in a pure political controversy," Rhodes said. "The city is going to have to prove there is something very particular in the sermons that does not come up anywhere else."

To that end, Feldman said the pastors made their sermons relevant to the case by using the pulpit to do political organizing. That included encouraging congregation members to sign petitions and help gather signatures for equal rights ordinance foes, who largely take issue with the "rights" extended to gay and transgender residents.

Feldman pointed to a training video that surfaced this summer showing Welch, of the Houston Area Pastor Council, explaining the rules signature gatherers needed to follow during a church presentation. With aPowerPoint presentation behind him, Welch tells the audience the city's stringent repeal referendum process "makes it more challenging for us" to qualify for the ballot.

Ordinance supporters said the video proved the signature gatherers were aware of the rules but flouted them anyway.

"If someone is speaking from the pulpit and it's political speech, then it's not going to be protected," Feldman said.  say goodbye to the first ammendment

Plaintiff Jared Woodfill disagreed, saying the subpoenas impinge on protected religious freedoms.

"This is the city trampling on the First Amendment rights of pastors in their churches," said Woodfill, a former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.

Woodfill and other critics pledged to take the issue to the voters after the City Council approved the ordinance in May, banning discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting. Religious institutions are exempt. not individuals of course

City Secretary Anna Russell initially counted enough signatures to qualify the opponents' petition, with about 600 more than the required 17,269 signatures. Feldman then looked through all of the petition pages to see if those who gathered signatures met city charter requirements - namely, whether signature gatherers were Houston residents and whether they signed the petition pages.

That process disqualified more than half the 5,199 pages. In their suit, opponents claimed Russell's original count should be the most important one and alleged Feldman had inserted himself into the process illegally.

In August, opponents agreed to drop their request for an emergency temporary injunction, aimed at forcing a referendum this November. The group has filed several appeals in an effort to expedite the case, including a pending appeal at the Texas Supreme Court.

The subpoenas, however, are tied to the January district court date and request more than just sermons. The requests touch on a wide range of communications among the pastors, with their congregations and with city officials about the ordinance, including "any discussion about whether or how HERO does or does not impact restroom access."

Opponents frequently have cited the perceived threat of male sexual predators dressed in drag entering women's restrooms, dubbing the measure the "Sexual Predator Protection Act."

The ordinance protects transgender residents' ability to use the restroom consistent with their gender expression in short if a perverted man says their woman womens bathroom it is, regardless of their biological sex, but puts the onus on the individual to prove he or she was a victim of bias.

The city also is seeking any information about payments and incentives offered to people contracted to circulate the petitions, and the tax information associated with those payments.

The city does not intend to back down from its request and is working on a response to the Alliance Defending Freedom's motion, Feldman said.
(houstonchronicle) highlights my additions

Rabbis remember to make a copy of your shabbos hagadol drashos available for the goverment

Houston city attorneys modify subpoenas that had sought clergy sermons in equal rights lawsuit
Published October 17, 2014

HOUSTON – Houston city attorneys are no longer seeking through subpoenas sermons from five pastors who publicly opposed an ordinance banning discrimination against gay and transgender residents. after a major campaign against Houston including by formal presidential candidate Micheal Huckabee and Texas Senator Ted Cruz

Mayor Annise Parker said Friday that the city was backing off the sermon request but would not withdraw the subpoenas, which seek other information from the pastors as part of a lawsuit over a petition drive to repeal the equal "rights" ordinance.

"They were too broad," Parker said at a news conference. "They were typical attorney language in a discovery motion. They were asking for everything but the kitchen sink." that's not what she said before the pressure (see her tweet at the top of the page)

While the word "sermons" was being deleted from the subpoenas, the revised request for other speeches or presentations was appropriate, Parker said.

"This is not about what anyone is preaching; this is not about their religion; it's not about the free exercise of religion," she said. "It is our right to defend the city and asking legitimate questions about the petition process."

In May, the City Council passed the equal rights ordinance, which consolidates city bans on discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion and other categories and increases protections for gay and transgender residents. Parker, who is gay, and other supporters said the measure is about offering protections at the local level against all forms of discrimination in housing, employment and services provided by private businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

Religious institutions are exempt, but city attorneys recently subpoenaed the pastors, seeking all speeches, presentations or sermons related to the repeal petition.

Christian activists had sued after city officials ruled they didn't collect enough signatures to get the question on the ballot. The city secretary initially counted enough signatures, but then city attorney David Feldman ruled that more than half of the pages of the petition were invalid.

Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian religious rights legal organization that filed the motion to quash the subpoenas, said the city "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," Stanley said. "That solves nothing."

Subpoenas still demand 17 different categories of information that encompass speeches made by the pastors and private communications with their church members, he said.

"They must be rescinded entirely," Stanley said, contending the city needs to respect First Amendment religious freedoms.

Feldman said that the subpoenas were routine in the give-and-take between lawyers in a lawsuit and that the now-contentious matter could have been defused in negotiations involving attorneys for both sides.

"They decided to make it a media circus," he said.

The controversy has touched a nerve among religious conservatives around the country, already anxious about the rapid spread of gay "rights" and what it might mean for faith groups that object. Religious groups, including some that support civil "rights" protections for gays, have protested the subpoenas as a violation of religious freedom.

(AP) highlights my additions

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