BLOGIn America: Houston Officials Subpoena Sermon Notes, Private Communications From Local Pastors

By Alan Sears Posted on: | October 21, 2014

I know it’s not something many are willing to believe.

Even for those who generously support the work of Alliance Defending Freedom, who’ve heard our many warnings through the years about the threats posed to religious freedom by those hostile to our faith and those pressing the demands of the homosexual legal and political agenda … it’s hard to believe that certain things can happen in America.

 Europe may encroach on its churches, and Christians have long been persecuted in Asia, but this – this is the land of the free. This is a country born out of the burning desire of the Pilgrims and those who came after them to worship freely, to follow God’s voice in their conscience. This is the nation where protections for religious liberty are woven into the very marrow of our Constitution. We put “In God We Trust” on our money. We say “under God” in the Pledge. We sing “God Bless America” at ballgames, for goodness’ sake. How bad can it really get?

The answer to that became startlingly clear last week in Houston.

This past June, that city’s leaders put into effect a law allowing members of each sex open access to the other gender’s public bathrooms. It was not a popular decision: 82 percent of Houstonians opposed the bizarre decree. Petitions rapidly circulated throughout the city, signed by citizens demanding that the new law be repealed, or placed on a ballot for the voters to decide. Some of the petitions were circulated in churches; some pastors openly discussed the law and its implications from the pulpit – a right the First Amendment protects.

The Houston law requires a certain number of valid signatures on such petitions for them to carry real legal weight with the city council. The citizens of Houston supplied more than three times the required number. The city secretary legally certified the petitions – meaning that, by law, the council had to acquiesce to the will of the people. Yet they’ve refused to do so.

 In response, a group of citizens have filed a lawsuit against the city, pressing the council to comply with the law and honor the petitions. Instead, the city’s attorneys have filed a subpoena against five local pastors, demanding 17 categories of information – including copies of their sermons “related to the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession,” as well as any personal communications they might have had with church members or others about the bathroom law.

 ADF attorneys have filed a motion in a Texas court to block that subpoena – along with an accompanying brief pointing out that neither the pastors nor their churches are even involved in the lawsuit, and that the information the City wants has nothing to do with the lawsuit. And the City isn't backing down.

City officials apparently want to see if the pastors have ever opposed or criticized them … and to intimidate them, other pastors, and any other citizens from ever doing so again. In effect, it’s an aggressive bid to control – through explicit legal action or implicit political pressure – what preachers preach, and what Christians believe about social issues.

“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” says ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb.

“The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions. Political and social commentary is not a crime; it is protected by the First Amendment.”

“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “In this case, they have embarked upon a witch-hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it.”

The Houston city council’s actions pose a “clear and present danger” to religious freedom … not only in their own community, but throughout the country. This is a critical “trial balloon” being floated in the culture. Those pressing the agenda the council supports are watching closely to see not only how the citizens of Houston and the media react, but how Christians across America do.

 The threats to your religious freedom – and to that of your children and grandchildren – are real. Christians cannot take solace in the vague, naive hope that “nothing really bad could happen in America.”

Freedom is never free, and it’s never guaranteed … not even here. If we cherish our religious liberty, we must stand for it and defend it. We must respond in the courts and at the voting booth. We must make the phone calls, and sign the petitions – even at church. We must speak up for it – even from the pulpit.

Please join me in praying for the pastors of Houston and their churches, as they stand for religious freedom. Please be in prayer for our attorneys, as they work to defend these fellow believers. And please pray for Christians all over America, that we will have the courage and the wisdom to be both good citizens, and faithful followers of Christ.

Alan Sears


Alan Sears serves as founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, building on his experience as longtime leader of the organization to strengthen alliances, forge new relationships, and develop ADF resources.

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