Thursday, October 16, 2014

City of Houston Subpoenas Pastors Sermons

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The city of Houston,Texas has issued a subpoena demanding 5 pastors turn over their sermons and various other communications with their congregation that deal with homosexuality, gender identification or Annise Parker, the city's openly lesbian mayor.

Alliance Defending Freedom has now stepped in to defend these and other pastors who could be held in contempt of court resulting in fines or confinement (jail) or both.

Are we now walking down the path toward criminalizing the pulpit if the message is not acceptable to government officials?

What about the secular progressive's "Great Wall of Separation" that supposedly exists between church and state? It appears the "wall" is only a wall when used to lock the church out from speaking to the cultural issues, while a boulevard for the state to invade the business of the church.

Could something like this happen in Seattle with its openly homosexual mayor?

Here's how it all started.

This is the latest twist in an ongoing saga over Houston's new non-discrimination ordinance.

The law, among other things, allows men to use women's bathrooms and vice versa.

A coalition of about 400 Houston area churches opposed to the new ordinance, and to the general direction of the city under openly lesbian Mayor Annise Parker, launched a petition drive to place a referendum on the ballot for a vote of the people on the matter of the bathrooms.

While only 17,269 signatures were required, the coalition of churches gathered over 50,000 signatures.

However, the Houston Chronicle reported that executives in the Mayor's office reviewed the signatures and threw out thousands of them, eliminating the referendum from the ballot.

Opponents of the "bathroom bill" then filed a lawsuit against the city and the mayor.

The city then responded with subpoenas demanding 5 pastors turn over all their sermons and communications to their congregation regarding homosexuality, gender identity and Mayor Annise Parker.

The 5 pastors subpoenaed were not actually part of the lawsuit, although they support it.

The coalition of 400 churches represent a number of faith groups from Southern Baptist to non denominational churches.

Steve Riggle is one of the pastors who received a subpoena. He was ordered to turn over "all his speeches and sermons related to Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality and gender identity."

The mega church pastor was also ordered to hand over "all communication with members of your congregation" regarding the non-discrimination law.

Riggle says, "The mayor would like to silence our voice. She's a bully."

Pastor Dave Welch is the executive director of the Texas Pastor's Council. He too received a subpoena asking for the same things.

He too says he will not be intimidated by the mayor.

Several of the pastors who were served subpoenas---perhaps all of them, have said they will "not" comply with the order. This, of course, puts them in a position where they can be deemed in contempt of the court and be fined or confined (jail) or both.

A number of pastors and Christian leaders have been expressing concern that something like this could be on the horizon.

Wallace Henley is one who has been expressing these concerns. Henely is the senior associate pastor at Second Baptist Church in Houston and a former journalist and aid at the White House. He is also a professor.

He calls this process the "Criminalization of the Pulpit."

In his article directed to this matter, he recalls a personal experience he had while preaching in a former Soviet Block country where he was alerted that a government official would likely infiltrate the services where he was speaking, looking for something with which to charge him.

I too have had similar experiences, particularly when I was preaching in Poland at First Baptist Church in Warsaw and an Assembly of God church in Krakow during the years when Russia had its heavy hand on the people, particularly the church in Poland.

This matter in Houston is all too parallel to what has happened in Eastern Europe and particularly in Germany during the rise of Hitler.

As Pastor Martin Niemoeller and others awoke to the very real circumstances in their country as Hitler rose to power, they began to speak to the issues from their pulpits with consequences.

Yale Professor Harry S. Stout has written extensively, documenting how pastors and preachers in the colonies spoke to the issues of their times. In fact, he has documented that often there were as many as 2,000 sermons per week explaining the deeper implications of parliamentary dominance and abuse.

They also put a light on the larger issues of the authority of Scripture and the destiny they believed New England had been given in the proclamation of the gospel. They believed and advocated in the spiritual destiny of this country.

They understood the power of the King's abuses. They understood that when human regimes clash with the eternal Kingdom, it was their calling to address it.

There are even deeper issues now---the disdain toward the Constitution and elevating homosexual behavior as a right that trumps religious freedom, setting a path to criminalizing the pulpit if preachers don't conform.

While I do not personally believe pastors or preachers should work to inflame anger or incite violence among certain groups as some do, I firmly believe our culture is where it is today because too many pastors and preachers have chosen to remain silent, not making waves, while our country has lost its way for lack of a moral compass.

Some pastors seem to put their career before their calling.

Now we have this.

Mayor Parker's actions are not a new tactic.

Read Amos chapter 7.

When the prophet Amos would not adjust his message to suit King Jeroboam, the king's lackey Amaziah ordered Amos "not to prophesy any more at Jeroboam's sanctuary and house."

Slowly and surely the anti-church, anti-Bible movement is seeking to either redefine Scripture by controlling pastors and preachers, intimidate them to silence or simply criminalize the pulpit here in America---with criminal consequences to follow.

May God give every pastor and preacher the courage to speak the truth, and give every person of Christian faith the will to pray for them and support those who do.

This is a watershed moment for the church in America.

God help us.


  1. A matter to be deeply in prayer about. Thanks Gary for sanding strong and communicating with us the anti-Christian issues we face. It is amazing how fast the homosexual community has rallied and used their new found power to persecute those who do not agree with them. Religion aside, what ever happened to freedom of speech?

  2. Oh please, what does this have to do with there being a 'homosexual' mayor?

    The sequence of events was.
    • Civil Rights ordinance was passed.
    • Signatures were collected to put up a vote to repeal it.
    • The vast majority of the signature petitions were improperly filled out and so were invalid.
    • The signature gathers filed a law suit asking for special rights that the improperly gathered signatures should still be counted.
    • As part of discovery the city is seeing if allegations that the non-profit corporations, primarily churches, engaged in illegal electioneering to gather signatures that would illustrate further reason the signatures were tainted.
    • The corporations are in a tizzy because they realize that their sermons will show that they indeed did engage in illegal electioneering which would make them lose the case and possibly lose their tax free non-profit corporate status.

    Come on Gary, you have always been very careful to separate your election efforts from your non-profit corporation's activities, you know how important that is to maintain your non-profit status. The churches in the Houston area certainly know the same.

    Either the churches followed the law and their sermons will just get even wider distribution, or they will have violated their non-profit status. injure the changes of the lawsuit, risk losing their non-profit status, but the silver lining is their sermons will still get wider distribution.

    Any church can engage in electioneering if they want, just not as a registered non-profit corporation.

    Lets just hope the churches didn't willfully violate their contractual promises to the government, let the Truth be known and let the chips fall where they may.

    1. So, you think it is okay for women to use men´s restrooms, and for men to use women's restrooms? Just asking as you did not mention that in your response to Gary.

    2. It's not the article's topic but at the Seattle Beer festival women came in for urgency reasons into the men's bathroom, the world went on just fine. And if they are transgender even less of a problem.

      What's going on in the bathrooms you go in that really makes a difference? Stalls have doors, everyone is clothed otherwise and if you aren't standing at a urinal there is nothing to see there.

      It's a non-issue to me and anyone who knows transgendered people knows it's not a source of titllation to them.

    3. Well, see, it was the topic of the referendum... the issue is not about whether it is a non-issue for transgendered people... why should a transgender (?) tell me what should be an issue for me or not. You see, it is not about the usage of the restroom... it is about a case for a much bigger agenda... forcing people to go against their conviction... this is just knocking on the door...

    4. wow , guilty until proven innocent . Amazing how the folks promoting equal rights get so selective about it the most when it is not in their interest. Houston is backing down , someone one must have read the Constitution .

    5. What conviction are you being forced to do anything about? You share restrooms with straights, gays, bisexuals, asexuals, what exactly is the big deal about sharing it with a transsexual? How is it any different than sharing a bus with them?

    6. You obviously have no children . Of course at their age they are expected to have your maturity and open minded understanding of sexuality ? Since when was natural modesty such a backward concept to respect among our fellow citizens .

    7. Natural modesty extends to strangers of any sex. Who disrobes, adult or child, other than in the privacy of a stall?

      Again I get the impression people complaining to things in public restrooms very few other people do.

    8. And you know the signatures were improperly filled out or invalid, how? Because the city officials said so? Houston is not the only place where so many signatures were invalidated so that a measure was not allowed to go to the vote. This one sounds VERY suspicious.

  3. I don't believe for a moment that Mayor Parker and her minions believed this tactic would succeed. This has been a classic "test the waters" measure to evaluate the response and strategize the attack on a much large scale. (See David Kupelian`s book "The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised As Freedom".)

  4. Oshtur Vishanti,

    The IRS and many campaign regulations (including here in WA) make a distinction between "political advocacy," advocating for a political candidate, and "issue advocacy," advocating for a referendum or initiative. The former is a prohibited activity for nonprofits. The later is acceptable by the IRS.

    Another distinction is whether a group is communicating to members or the public at large. Labor unions can communicate political messages about candidates to their members without breaching 501(c)(4) regulations, but they can't communicate the same message to the public at large.

    1. Labor Unions endorse candidates all the time .

  5. Over 30,00 signatures were 'improperly' filled out? I doubt that. Any people where over half of signatures were mysteriously rejected would be right to challenge the ruling. It looks like most signatures were rejected for not writing their "voter certification" number down. Who carries around their voter id? In fact, they just need voter ID # OR date of birth, in Texas. While I understand rejecting a signature for lack of address, lack of voting # is not a reason.

    Yet, look how many signatures were 'rejected' for lack of voter #, despite having DOB, in just a fraction of the signature pages:

    This, indeed, seems to be the main criteria being used - as if someone just hastily went through and crossed out every name without voter #. Yet, if they have DOB there is no valid reason to do so!

    PLUS signing before the filing of the petition date is legal! (This was another excuse used to reject petition pages). It just can't be over '180 days' prior.

    I think what has happened here is that the city knows they got busted and have no case, so they are attempting to get out of it by turning the attack on the pastors in the court of popular/'politically correct' opinion.

    BTW - there is no law against someone getting permission from a church to set up a table in the foyer and collect petitions. Also, while some laws (which are probably would never pass the supreme court as constitutional) hold that a pastor cannot *explicitly* favor or oppose a candidate or ballot measure, or display campaign signs on church property; pastors can still encourage attendees to consider the issues, speak on moral issues relating to candidates without mentioning them by name, encourage attendees to vote, even coordinate get-out-the-vote drives, sponser non-partisan debates, etc. So long as the action is 'non-partisan', it does not run into any non-profit restrictions. Also, if the action is by an attendee, then it doesn't matter (ie, you can personally wear a campaign button to church, or collect signatures in the lobby, etc).

    Most importantly, ballot petitions are NOT considered political activity. They are considered legislation/lobbying activity. As such, a pastor CAN ask people to support/oppose a ballot initiatives and referendums, so long as great time/expense is not spent on this effort. For non-profits it is not so much that all lobbying is prohibited (for some non-profs it can be up to 20% of their activity/budget), but rather that they cannot engage in 'substantial' lobbying.

    1. And with all your qualifications on what is and isn't allowable, the asking for the sermons and literature is an appropriate request, since they could very possibly gone over the line.

      Oh and the majority of signatures were rejected because the page they were no was not properly certified, not because of the signatures themselves.

    2. That makes no sense. This is part of the legal discovery process this is how you find out who's guilty and it was innocent. And the legal discovery process is for collecting information. That's all.

      This involves a lawsuit about signature gathering for a referendum that was done to a great deal at churches. It is a totally chewed legitimate question to ask what was said at these churches to motivate the signature gathering.

      Have none of you at your work ever had been subpoenaed to provide information for a lawsuit? Working in medical I have four times in my career and it's usually just either I ran a particular test or I supervised a clinic where something happened. You collect the information you send it on.

      This is how the American legal system works and always has. What amazes me is that people are getting up in arms about a subpoena is it getting a subpoena was bad.

    3. Please note the links I gave. These show pages where specific signatures were rejected - there were also pages rejected, but these were far fewer. If you look at the screenshots of the individual petition pages, you will note that for most it is specific signatures being rejected. You will see the 'rejected' signatures crossed out - a very few for valid reasons like lack of address, but the vast majority just for lack of voter #. Then, at the bottom of each petition page you will see a number, these are the 'accepted' signatures.
      Based on the petitions and Texas state law, a great many valid signatures were blatantly rejected.

      Also, as for 'discovery' - even local lawyers have commented that the city's request serves no valid purpose in discovery. The subpeona request would need to be far more specific.

    4. The links are to a sampling. The articles about the votes specifically say that entire petitions were rejected, over 2000 pages, because of improper validation of the petitions, not each signature on the petition.

      And considering how our own R74 was fraught with prevarication and hyperbole, I'm just going to wait until the actual lawsuit to really decide.

      And 'even' local lawyers have agendas, conservative law professors have said there is nothing wrong with the subpeonas and since so many petitions were rejected because of procedure errors finding out what the signature gatherers were told is a completely reasonable line of discovery. Anyone saying there is no valid purpose is someone is just upset there is a subpoena.

  6. Just as the Stonewall Riot was a defining moment of the Gay Rights movement i am hoping and praying that this will be a defining moment of outrage for Christians.

  7. Whichbisvwhy there is a lawsuit and why there is a discovery process. Again, just how lawsuits go, complaint filed, subpoenas issued, information gathered. What is it the subpoenaed are so afraid will come to light?

  8. The mayor has no sense and should be removed. The strikes against her add up to her trying to take over the people's government by force.


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