A member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in a letter Wednesday called Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s subpoena of church pastors “an abuse of government power” and urged the mayor to withdraw the court documents.
Commissioner Peter Kirsanow said that the subpoenas, even after being amended to remove a request for church sermons, still appear to be “a blatant attempt to punish these pastors for expressing their religiously based political views.”
“It punishes them by subjecting them to the stress of a subpoena (though they are not parties to the litigation), impairing their right to petition the government, forcing them to comply with a patently overbroad discovery request, and singling them out for opprobrium — thus chilling future religiously informed speech,” said Mr. Kirsanow, writing on behalf of himself and not the commission.
The subpoenas were issued after the city was sued in August for ruling that a pastor-led coalition had failed to gather enough signatures to place a referendum on an opposite-sex “bathroom” ordinance on the ballot. As a result, said Mr. Kirsanow, “the validity of the signatures is the only legitimate issue.”
The commissioner’s letter came as local and national religious leaders announced Wednesday an event in support of the five Houston pastors who were served with subpoenas, called I Stand Sunday.
The gathering, scheduled for Nov. 2 at Grace Community Church in Houston and available on webcast for other venues, is billed as a rally on behalf of the pastors and “the freedom to live out our faith free of government intrusion or monitoring.”