The Mayor of Houston, Texas finally attacked the First Amendment, in several ways, as never before. In one measure she threatened at least four and maybe five of its six parts. Furthermore, she did it as part of a pending lawsuit. So this case will work its way through the courts. Those same courts will now test their own fidelity to the Constitution, and to the oath all judges take to uphold it.
How the Houston flap started
The fight over the First Amendment in Houston began with a bad-enough measure: the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or “HERO.” That ordinance says any private business that opens itself to the public, must let any person, of either gender, use the restroom he or she “feels comfortable” using. They may not restrict people from using restrooms on anatomical grounds alone. CNAV prefers not to describe the matter any more graphically than that.
The Houston City Council passed this ordinance in May of 2014. Outraged city residents circulated a petition to repeal the ordinance. They gathered 50,000 signatures, more than enough to put it on the ballot. But in August, the city attorney threw the petition back at them. He cited “irregularities” in signature gathering, but gave no details.
Naturally the petitioners sued. That case will go to trial January 15, 2015.
About two weeks ago the First Amendment attack came. The Mayor (Annise Parker) issued subpoenas to several area pastors. These included five not among the plaintiffs and “friends of the court” in the lawsuit. The subpoenas demanded text and notes for sermons and other speeches either about how to gather signatures, how to sign a petition, or about homosexuality, the ordinance, or Mayor Parker personally. (See these eight reports about the subpoena flap.)
For what this is worth: Annise Parker happens to have a homosexual orientation. She says that openly. But Houston elected a female homosexual mayor once before: Kathy Whitmire in the 1980s. Your correspondent voted in that election. A local resident said Kathy Whitmire had an SSRSB on the side. It was an open secret and a common joke. But even Kathy Whitmire never thought to propose an ordinance, or issue a subpoena, like those Annise Parker has passed and issued.
Annise Parker’s intimate preferences don’t matter here. Or they shouldn’t. But she seems hyper-sensitive about it. “How dare you criticize me?” she seems to say to those pastors. She even said on Twitter: when any pastor criticizes her, his sermons shall be “fair game.”
Then the counter-pressure mounted against her. Greg Abbott, the Attorney General of Texas (and running for Governor there), warned her: Back off. You’re playing with Constitutional fire. Or words to that effect. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the Houston subpoenas “a grotesque abuse of power,” and cried shame on the Mayor. And the Alliance in Defense of Freedom (ADF) promised to intervene in the lawsuit, to move to quash the subpoenas.
At last report the Mayor and City Attorney of Houston avoided asking for the sermons. (They could get those anyway. The pastors make no effort to hide them, or to preach to members only.) Now they ask for all “speeches, presentations, and communications.” Meaning she wants to read their mail. The ADF will not accept that as a workable compromise.
The First Amendment and how the Mayor of Houston attacked it
The First Amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition their government for redress of grievances.
Mayor Parker attacks the First Amendment in at least four ways:
- She asks for the pastors’ sermons and notes, and then for speeches and mails. That attacks the free exercise of religion. (Did she also try to establish the anti-religion of secular humanism?)
- She also abridges the freedom of speech when she asks for those speeches and mails.
- She attacks the right of the people to assemble. The word church comes from a Greek word meaning “a called-out assembly.”
- She invalidated a petition on specious grounds. That interferes with the right of petition.
The trial court for the lawsuit over the petition will now have to rule on a motion to quash the subpoenas. The ADF will likely argue the first two points above.
These subpoenas go far beyond pre-trial discovery. No court can let those subpoenas go out. To do so would break faith with the Constitution.
Sadly, we will see this again, and more often, in future. The de facto President set the tone for disrespecting the Constitution when it suits those in power. And especially now that those in power seek to quash religion.
Paul of Tarsus warned us. (See 2 Timothy chapters 3 and 4.)
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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