Houston’s lesbian mayor, inundated by hundreds of Bibles being sent to her office and coast-to-coast criticism, has decided to withdraw her subpoenas of “sermons” and other communications belonging to five area pastors who oppose her “nondiscrimination” ordinance that allows “gender-confused” people to use their choice of restrooms.
Mayor Annise Parker, who once admitted the ordinance was all about her, made the announcement at a press conference early Wednesday.
WND broke the story two weeks ago of the city’s subpoenas in a lawsuit against the “bathroom bill.”
Parker explained she was “directing the city legal department to withdraw the subpoenas issued to the five Houston pastors who delivered the petitions, the anti-HERO petitions, to the city of Houston and who indicated that they were responsible for the overall petition effort.”
The five pastors, however, are not party to the lawsuit against the city, which charges the mayor and city attorney arbitrarily nullified a successful petition effort to force the city council to reconsider its approval of the ordinance or to put it before voters.
Parker continued: “It is extremely important to me to protect our Equal Rights Ordinance from repeal, and it is extremely important to me to make sure that every Houstonian knows that their lives are valid and protected and acknowledged. We are going to continue to vigorously defend our ordinance against repeal efforts.”
A trial in the case is scheduled for January.
Parker’s ordinance was adopted by the council in May over the objections of multiple organizations of pastors and leaders. The opponents then collected more than 50,000 signatures. In the validation process, the city secretary stopped counting after reaching about 19,000, determining that the threshold level of about 17,000 had been reached.
The city attorney then stepped in and declared many thousands of signatures were invalid.
In response to the subpoenas, opponents have urged pastors across the country to send the mayor copies of their sermons and other concerned citizens to send Bibles.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, whose organization will hold a simulcast rally from Houston on Sunday on the issue, said, “Standing together across the nation, Christians have sent a strong message to Mayor Parker.”
Perkins said that while he and his allies “are encouraged by this evidence that the mayor is responding to pressure and withdrawing her unconstitutional subpoenas, this is about far more than subpoenas.”
“As we have stated since the beginning of this intrusion into the private affairs of Houston churches; this is not about subpoenas, this is not about sermons, it is not even about biblical teaching on sexual immorality. It is about the political intimidation and the bullying by Mayor Parker that continues,” he said.
He will serve as host for the I Stand Sunday event.
The event also will feature former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Duck Dynasty’s Phil and Al Robertson, the five Houston pastors who were targeted, Ronnie Floyd of the Southern Baptist Convention and others.
It will be simulcast into more than 2,500 churches and home groups nationwide.
“Despite the fact that the citizens of Houston gathered over 50,000 signed petitions in 30 days, which is 30,000 more than required by the city charter, the mayor has refused to allow the people of Houston to vote on her unfair special rights ordinance that discriminates against religious freedom within the city and endangers citizens by declaring that public bathrooms can no longer be limited on the basis of a person’s actual biological sex,” Perkins said.
“The citizens of Houston have a right to vote, and Mayor Parker has denied them that right. America must see the totalitarianism that accompanies the redefinition of marriage and human sexuality, which results in citizens being denied their most fundamental rights,” he said. “This Sunday night, thousands of Christians from across the nation will join ‘I Stand Sunday’ to support the pastors and Christians in Houston, Texas and their fundamental rights of religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right to petition their government.”
Other speakers will be Grace Community Church senior pastor Steve Riggle, Vietnamese Baptist Church senior pastor Khanh Huynh, Dave Welch of the Houston Pastors Council, Iglesia Rios de Aceite pastor Hernan Castano, Magda Hermida Ministries Founder Magda Hermida, MacGregor Palm Community Baptist Church pastor Willie Davis and Second Baptist Church pastor Ed Young.
Parker had said she wanted copies of sermons or other communications related to homosexuality and the ordinance. Amid widespread public outcry, she changed the request from “sermons” to “speeches.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been assisting the Houston pastors, called the mayor’s decision to withdraw the subpoenas a triumph.
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said: “The mayor really had no choice but to withdraw these subpoenas, which should never have been served in the first place. The entire nation – voices from every point of the spectrum left to right – recognize the city’s action as a gross abuse of power. We are gratified that the First Amendment rights of the pastors have triumphed over government overreach and intimidation. The First Amendment protects the right of pastors to be free from government intimidation and coercion of this sort.”
He said, however, the subpoenas “were only one element of this disgraceful episode.”
“The scandal began with another abuse of power when the city of Houston arbitrarily threw out the valid signatures of thousands of voters. The city did this all because it is bent on pushing through its deeply unpopular ordinance at any cost,” Stanley said.
“The subpoena threat has been withdrawn but the mayor and the city should now do the right thing and allow the people of the Houston to decide whether to repeal the ordinance.”
WND reported earlier this week the city’s attorneys were insisting the ordinance critics have no claim because their petition was never “validated.”
The argument, however, contradicted the sworn testimony of the city secretary, who has the authority to validate the signatures and determined the petition drive met the minimum requirement.
A city brief to the state Supreme Court was filed by attorney Lynne Liberato in the case.
The coalition asked the state Supreme Court to step in and order the city to follow its charter, which specifies that ordinances opposed by a certain number of residents shall be halted.
But in arguing that the state Supreme Court should keep out of the case, the city said that “because the city secretary did not validate the referendum petition, the second step of the referendum processes – the city council’s ‘immediate’ reconsideration of the ordinance or popular vote – was never triggered.”
The city’s lawyers argued the city charter “does not require respondents to act, immediately or otherwise, on an unsuccessful referendum petition.”
However, the city secretary, Anna Russell, who has served Houston for more than four decades, was asked by plaintiffs’ attorney Andy Taylor in a deposition about validation of the signatures.
Russell had explained it was her understanding “that the [city] charter provides that the city secretary determine the number of qualified voters who sign the petition.”
Taylor then asked: “And based on that understanding, you did that; and the result of your work was that 17,846 signatures had been validated. And that was more than the minimum number necessary, correct?”
“That’s correct,” she replied
Taylor told WND in an interview that the city’s filing was a “head fake” to try to keep the state Supreme Court from intervening and ordering the city to follow its charter and act on the petition.
He said the city essentially brought up three points – that the Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction because a trial is scheduled in January, that there are disagreements a trial judge needs to decide first and the case needs to run its course through the system because of arguments of time, signatures and other issues.
But, he said, the charter requires immediate action on such petitions, not a leisurely trip through the court system.
He said the violations are ongoing and need to be addressed.
And he said there are no real issues to decide, since the city secretary, as required in the city charter, ruled there were enough signatures on the petition.
In fact, she noted that she only looked through about one-third of the signatures submitted, because the minimum already had been reached, and there was no point in spending more time.
It wasn’t until after she had prepared her report, she said in the deposition, that the city attorney came to her and told her that he had invalidated most of the signatures and that she ultimately revised her report to add that statement.
Taylor told WND that Russell also, in a memo about the dispute, had used the word “certify” regarding the petition signatures.
In her official report about the petition, Russell said, “As of July 27, 2014, the number of qualified city of Houston voters who signed the petition had been verified with a margin of error.”
It was only days later that City Attorney David Feldman instructed her to add to her report the statement: “According to the city attorney’s office and reviewed by the city secretary the analysis of the city attorney’s office, 2,750 pages containing 16,010 signatures do not contain sufficient acknowledgment as required by the charter. Therefore, according to the city attorney’s office only 2,449 pages containing 15,249 signatures can lawfully be considered toward the signatures required.”
Civil rights commissioner to mayor: Back down
WND also reported a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote to Parker, urging her to back down from her demand for copies of pastors “speeches.”
“I write to express my concern regarding subpoenas requesting extensive information from pastors who are involved in the Equal Rights Ordinance Referendum,” wrote Commissioner Peter Kirsanow. “These discovery requests threaten to have a chilling effect on religious and political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.”
WND reported Rush Limbaugh, America’s top-rated radio host, described Parker’s actions as “vile.”
“I think what that mayor in Houston has done may be one of the most vile, filthy, blatant violations of the Constitution that I have seen,” Limbaugh said Wednesday on his national broadcast.
“And I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why law authorities are not pursuing this. I cannot understand it.”
The mayor’s contact information:
Mayor Annise D. Parker
City of Houston
P.O. Box 1562 Houston, Texas 77251
Phone: (713) 837-0311