According to Newt Gingrich, Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s call to issue subpoenas for sermons from Christian pastors is for much larger constitutional and political stakes than to simply force disclosure from the ministers.
“The Mayor of Houston’s recent subpoena of sermons by Christian pastors in the country’s fourth largest city is a shocking violation of First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion,” said Gingrich in a post co-written with Vince Haley. “There is no clearer violation of First Amendment freedoms than for government officials to attempt to censor religious speech.”
In mid-October, Parker, as the city’s first openly lesbian mayor, had Houston subpoena a group of pastors to demand sermons they had written about her relating to topics such as gender identity and sexuality. The subpoenas were granted after the pastors opposed Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance that was passed by the city council earlier this year. That ordinance, which also revolved around topics such as gender identity and sexuality, allowed men to avail themselves of women’s restrooms and women to avail themselves of men’s restrooms in an attempt to secure transgender rights.
Those who opposed the ordinance acquired more than 50,000 signatures to initiate a repeal. However, that measure was eventually quashed and the protesters went on to sue the city. Ironically though, the five pastors subpoenaed recently are not part of that lawsuit.
In his recent post, Gingrich pointed out that the pastors’ lawyers were prepared to sue the city in order to have their subpoenas quashed but Parker changed her mind in the last minute, withdrawing the demands after loud protests were staged across Houston.
The so-called “bathroom bill,” which was passed in May, was in fact Parker’s initiative and continues to receive threats from protesters who want it repealed through a referendum vote.
Referring to Parker’s initiative as part of a “radical agenda,” Gingrich said, “In politics, if politicians are not succeeding in their arguments, they change the subject. Mayor Parker apparently is not succeeding in her defense of a law that opponents claim creates a right, among other newly created sexual and gender identity rights, for anyone to use public bathrooms of the opposite sex in the name of gender rights equality. … If you’re a liberal mayor trying to create new sexual and gender identity rights, there’s apparently no better object on which to refocus the public than the Christian pastors and their beliefs on gender and sexuality.”
Gingrich believes Parker is trying to shift focus from a battle over the pros of her gender identity and sexuality agenda to a battle over Christians’ worldview of sexual ethics. He accused the Mayor of speculating beforehand that her efforts would emerge effective, saying Parker knew even if the subpoenas were withdrawn, Houston’s pastors would think twice before criticizing her or the bill.
While an amendment penned in 1954, that limits what pastors may say politically in the pulpit, is “brazenly in conflict with the free speech and free exercise protections of the First Amendment,” Parker was allegedly threatening the tax-exempt status of churches by attacking pastors who challenge her, Gingrich explained.
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