It was disclosed this week that attorneys for the city of Houston, Texas have subpoenaed sermons and other writings from local ministers who are opposed to the new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) championed by its mayor.
A number of Houston pastors have joined a drive to repeal the new ordinance, collecting over 50,000 signatures, with only 17,259 required, to place the matter on the ballot. The Mayor and City Attorney have disallowed most of the petitions on various legal grounds, and that matter is now in court.
But most outrageous of all is the obvious violation of the First Amendment. Churches and pastors are specifically protected in their speech and religious practice under the First Amendment.
The chilling effect on ministers is precisely what the city and its mayor seek, of course, and this they cannot do. This is legal intimidation, pure and simple. Politicians are not free to outlaw or make legal threats over speech they do not like, or think is politically incorrect, in the face of the First Amendment.
Most Pastors I know would be willing to face the Contempt of Court charges that would result from non-compliance with the subpoena. One issue that might conflict them involves whether they will have a job after they are released. Most Pastors have families and their pastoral duties are how they put food on the table.
We can show our support of the Bible and the United States Constitution by contacting our church elders (or their equivalent) and volunteering that it would be a Pauline badge of honor to belong to a church where the Pastor has the sand to make the hard choices. We can volunteer that our Pastors should stay on the payroll in the event of legal entanglement (for this issue) and they should be guaranteed their job when they return. If history is any indication, they will write some mighty fine sermons while in prison.
In one of those strange, quirky twists, the State would end up supporting the Church in the event of tossing a bunch of Pastors in jail. The law suites would be a walk-in-the park for any competent attorney. The settlements would be weighty.
A rarely considered aspect of "indemnification" is that people are indemnified by organizations only under the circumstances where they are in compliance with the organizations policies and procedures. From the perspective of the employee, it appears that they are being protected by the organization. In fact, the organization is protecting its policies and procedures (arguably the heart of the organization) and the protection given to the individual is an unavoidable accident.
Since the City of Houston does not have a policy requiring intimidation of political opponents, nor does it have written procedures attacking the First Amendment, Mayor Annise Parker went "cowboy" and should be listed separately in the lawsuites and any efforts at municipal "indemnification" should be vigorously challenged. She should have to pay her own law bills. She should have to cough up compensitory funds in the case of a judgement that is unfavorable to her.
Actions have consequences. A bully is still a bully, even after they are elected mayor.