1. What Does The Houston Ordinance Do?
The ordinance is, among other things, a public accommodation policy that forbids discrimination in the city based on sexual orientation and gender identity. One of the points of greatest concern is that it allows men who think they are women to enter public restrooms, locker rooms and private dressings room areas reserved for women. Opponents say this is a violation of privacy and puts women at risk for predators who would take advantage of the law. A second concern is that under the ordinance Christian business owners like wedding photographers, bakers and florists would be fined and charged with a crime for refusing to participate in same-sex ceremonies. This has happened in other locations across the country.
2. How Did Residents Respond To The Proposed Ordinance?
There was a great deal of opposition to this legislation — primarily from church leaders and religious organizations. Polls showed that the people of Houston did not want the law. However, the mayor and city council passed the ordinance anyway.
In response, opponents organized a petition drive to place the issue onto this November’s ballot, allowing citizens to vote on the measure. Petition organizers needed just over 17,000 signatures in order to succeed. They turned in more than 50,000 signatures.
The city secretary certified the signatures as valid. However, the mayor and city attorney invalidated most of the signatures and tossed out the petitions, preventing the November public vote. Petition organizers sued the city for not putting the measure on the ballot.
3. Why Did The City Subpoena Pastor Sermons?
The city subpoenaed the sermons and other communications relating to the ordinance of five pastors who publicly opposed it, as part of the lawsuit challenging the invalidated petitions. These pastors are not a party to the lawsuit, but the mayor claims their sermons and conversations may be relevant to the suit if they were used to sway public opinion on the ordinance or petition drive.
4. So, Did The Pastors Do Something Wrong?
No. By all accounts, the pastors did nothing wrong and the subpoenas violate their religious freedom and speech rights. Even if they did preach boldly against the ordinance and encourage their members to sign the petition, they have violated no laws by doing so.
5. Should Pastors And Churches In Other Parts Of The Country Be Concerned About What is Happening in Houston?
On one hand, the Houston pastor subpoenas is a local issue involving a specific lawsuit. However, the legal and political precedent set by this case may impact future religious freedom across the nation.
6. So What Will Happen Next?
Assuming the mayor does not back down and retract the subpoenas — the case will proceed to trial within the next few months. The mayor and city attorney are facing a national backlash for these subpoenas precisely because they are a significant overreach of their authority, and a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution. Attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom specialize in just these kinds of cases and represent the pastors in this matter. It is likely that the judge assigned to hear this case will either throw out the subpoenas, or, if the subpoenas are allowed, the information the mayor can get from the pastors will be significantly limited.