Annise Parker, Houston's first openly lesbian mayor
Annise Parker, Houston’s first openly lesbian mayor

I’m assuming that you are familiar with the situation in Houston, Texas. If not, to be brief, the city of Houston has subpoenaed sermons, emails, and other materials from area pastors. More on that in the two articles cited below. It’s a complex situation that revolves around the city’s “HERO” ordinance. Still, what has apparently depends entirely on whom one reads.

The Alliance Defending Freedom description of the situation includes this statement:

City officials are upset over a voter lawsuit filed after the city council rejected valid petitions to repeal a law that allows members of the opposite sex into each other’s restrooms. ADF attorneys say the city is illegitimately demanding that the pastors, who are not party to the lawsuit, turn over their constitutionally protected sermons and other communications simply so the city can see if the pastors have ever opposed or criticized the city.

According to the ADF the efforts of the churches, even some not involved in the petition, but speaking and teaching on the issue, are targets of the subpoena.

Contrary to this, Snopes says much of this is …

FALSE: The subpoenas targeted sermons about homosexuality, transgender issues, and Mayor Parker.
:::
City Attorney David Feldman told the outlet that if “someone is speaking from the pulpit and it’s political speech then it’s not going to be protected” by the First Amendment. Rhodes pointed out that the ADF will have difficulty arguing that sermons intended for broadcast or livestream fit the criteria of privileged communications, as anyone could attend or view the speech.
So while the City of Houston indeed subpoenaed pastors’ sermons, it appears it did so to investigate whether the churches engaged in political organization activities under the guise of preaching.
Since first reading the Snopes site the header changed from a combination of True and False to “Mixture.” Though the last edited date is the 14th, this change was reflected on the 15.
There seems to be some disagreement here. Are the pastors addressing a moral issue or a political issue? From the pastors’ standpoint it’s a moral question. From the city’s position it’s a political matter. So let’s read the subpoena to see what it says. The requested documents section says this:
II. REQUESTED DOCUMENTS
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO PRODUCE THE FOLLOWING RECORDS:
1. All documents or communications to, from, CCing, BCCing, or forwarded to you,
or otherwise in your possession, relating or referring to any of the following in connection in any
way with HERO, the Petition:
3318939vl/014442
a. Plaintiffs,
b. Annise Parker or the Mayor’s office,
c. Anna Russell or the City Secretary’s office,
d. David Feldman or the City Attorney’s office,
e. HERO or any drafts of HERO,
f. the Petition, or any drafts of the Petition, including any discussions relating to
the language included at the top of the Petition,
g. the legal requirements for petitions under Texas, Houston municipal, or any
other law,
h. Petition signers,
9
1. Petition Circulators,
J. affidavits filled out by Petition Circulators, including the notarization of the
affidavits,
k. the payment of Petition Circulators,
1. funding of the Petition or petition drives,
m. the topics of equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity,
n. language relating to restroom access,
o. language related to restroom access being or having been removed from a
version of HERO, including any communications related to the removal of
that language,
p. any discussion about whether or how HERO does or does not impact restroom
access.
2. All communications to or from Plaintiffs.
3. All communications with the City regarding HERO or the Petition.
4. All communications with members of your congregation regarding HERO or the
Petition.
5. All communications with Joe La Rue or anyone else at the “Alliance Defending
Freedom” regarding HERO or the Petition.
6. All drafts of the Petition.
7. All lists of Petition Circulators.
8. All communications to or from Petition Circulators.
9. Any documents relating to the payment of Petition Circulators, including but not
limited to:
3318939vl/014442 10
a. budgets related to the payment of Petition Circulators,
b. check stubs or check registers reflecting payments to Petition Circulators,
c. copies of checks made out to Petition Circulators,
d. tax forms relating to the payment of Petition circulators,
e. documents explaining calculation of payment to Petition Circulators,
f. documents referencing incentives given to Petition Circulators for obtaining
certain numbers of signatures or completing a certain number of pages.
10. Any documents relating to funding and funding sources of the Petition and
Petition-related activities.
11. All training materials prepared for Petition Circulators or anyone else involved in
the collection of any signatures for the Petition.
12. 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.
13. All documents, studies, information, communications, or other data relied on in
connection with the Petition to check, confirm, or ensure the truthfulness and accuracy of the
statements made in the Petition, including but not limited to the statements in the Petition (or in
any training materials prepared for Petition Circulators or anyone else involved in the collection
of any signatures for the Petition) that “Biological males ARE IN FACT allowed to enter
women’s restrooms in Houston under Mayor Annise Parker’s “Equal Rights Ordinance”, thereby
threatening the physical and emotional safety of our women and children!” and that “Her ERO
creates UNequal Rights for a tiny group of people by taking away rights of safety and privacy for
the vast majority of our women and children!”) (emphasis in original).
3318939vl/014442 11
14. All documents, studies, information, communications, or other data that you
believe support or demonstrate the truthfulness and accuracy of the statements made in the
Petition, including but not limited to the statements in the Petition (or in any training materials
prepared for Petition Circulators or anyone else involved in the collection of any signatures for
the Petition) that “Biological males ARE IN FACT allowed to enter women’s restrooms in
Houston under Mayor Annise Parker’s “Equal Rights Ordinance”, thereby threatening the
physical and emotional safety of our women and children!” and that “Her ERO creates UNequal
Rights for a tiny group of people by taking away rights of safety and privacy for the vast
majority of our women and children!”) (emphasis in original).
15. All communications with Pastor Dave Welch or anyone else at or associated with
the Houston Area Pastor Council referring or relating to HERO, restroom access in connection
with HERO, the Petition, or this litigation.
16. All documents or communications reflecting or relating to the validity of
signatures on the Petition or the validity of any Petition Pages, including but not limited to
correspondence, notes, spreadsheets, or other documents regarding:
a. the validity of signatures,
b. the registered-voter status of any signatories,
c. the number of valid signatures,
d. the validity of Petition pages,
e. the validity of Circulator Oaths.
17. Your updated resume or curriculum vitae.
So, if pastors or church leaders have, even among themselves, spoken, emailed or written about city leaders, about the HERO ordinance then their communications are not considered private. Snopes leaves the impression that this is about sermons and not about the city leaders and the ordinance. Clearly it is about much more. The subpoena goes so far as to request one’s CV. This level of intrusion is, to say the least, over-reaching.
It was former Texas senator Lyndon Johnson, later to become president, who oversaw the drafting of the 501(c)(3) regulations which are used to intimidate churches into being silent on moral questions. It is again in Texas that pressure is being put onto churches
The material on Snopes leaves something to be desired.

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