A lawsuit against a Houston transgender-rights ordinance that grabbed national headlines when the lesbian mayor, Annise Parker, subpoenaed the sermons of area pastors is being escalated to the state Court of Appeals.
The pastors, announcing they have filed an appeal Thursday, released a statement.
“After ten months, thousands of man hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs for the coalition, Judge Robert Schaffer caved in to political pressure by the LGBT political force who endorsed him and ruled that we were a few hundred signatures short,” they said.
“His subjective determination that a group of circulators’ signatures were not legible – a standard that does not exist in Texas election law and violates the federal Voting Rights Act – invalidated over 5,000 signatures, nearly 10 times the number needed to erase even his declared shortfall. We are confident that his decision will be overturned on that basis alone at the state Court of Appeals,” the statement said.
When the City Council adopted the ordinance, the coalition immediately collected signatures to put the decision before the voters, but the city fought back and disqualified signatures, so the pastors’ group filed the legal challenge.
“The resolve of our pastors and leaders has not wavered and we intend to right a voting rights wrong. We will take this to the Texas Supreme Court if needed to assure that the rule of law is restored in Houston, voters have our day at the ballot and to protect basic, God-given rights of the citizens in the fourth largest city in America,” the pastors said.
The case against the city’s transgender ordinance, adopted at the behest of Parker, who once said the measure was all about her, drew national attention last year when WND broke the story Parker issued subpoenas to five pastors for copies of their sermons and other communications. The pastors later called for an investigation of City Hall’s actions.
A nationwide outpouring of criticism prompted officials to drop the subpoenas.
Rush Limbaugh at the time called the subpoenas “one of the most vile, filthy, blatant violations of the Constitution that I have seen.”
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After turning in more than 50,000 signatures, including more than 30,000 that were pre-verified as belonging to Houstonians, the pastors, working with the Houston Area Pastor Council, were told by the city secretary that she had stopped counting because more than enough valid signatures had been verified.
Then the city attorney, at the direction of the mayor, stepped in and simply ordered thousands of additional signatures invalidated.
The pastors, working as the No UNequal Rights Coalition, said in their statement: “We knew on July 3, 2014, that the massive coalition of pastors, churches, community leaders and citizens who had worked tirelessly over 30 days to gather over 54,000 signatures had submitted more than enough valid signatures to Houston City Secretary Anna Russell. On August 4, 2014, it was evident that Mayor Anise Parker had conspired with her City Attorney David Feldman to deprive the voters of the right to decide at the ballot whether to protect our women from having biological males in their restrooms, showers and locker rooms. She broke the law and declared the petitions invalid.
“We could not allow that kind of tyranny and lawlessness to occur in Houston so we filed a legal challenge against the mayor and city of Houston. During the succeeding months of depositions, hearings, briefs and trial, coalition attorney Andy Taylor firmly established that under established Texas law and precedent there were indeed not only an adequate number but a surplus of valid signatures submitted.”
The judge had said the pastors collected 16,684 signatures, of the needed 17,269, but at least 5,000 were disqualified over “legibility” issues, which the pastors said were not defined in the law.
During preparation for the court fight, longtime city Secretary Anna Russell testified the city charter “provides that the city secretary determine the number of qualified voters who sign the petition.”
In her testimony, she was 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.
Then the city attorney, Feldman, stepped in and disqualified most of the signatures that had been collected, and the city has been fighting efforts to overturn the ordinance ever since.
Houston officials have declined to respond to WND requests for comment.
F.N. Williams, senior pastor at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, earlier said the city’s attorneys “went to extraordinary lengths to discredit, demean, denigrate and disqualify as many petitions and signatures as possible.”
Pastor Steve Riggle, a leader of the coalition, said the pastors all along knew the fight over the ordinance might be long and hard.
“We are … greatly confident that justice will be served and the people will have our day at the ballot on this very important matter,” he said.