The Houston Chronicle reported yesterday that the city's liberal Democratic mayor has subpoenaed local churches whose ministers have been critical of the city's new "equal rights" ordinance. That law requires private businesses to permit transgendered persons to use the bathroom of the gender of their self-identity as opposed to their biological sex. Depending on how the law is interpreted and enforced, it could likely also apply to houses of worship.
While conservative/libertarian law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh cautions that there is no automatic First Amendment bar to such a subpoena provided it is "sufficiently relevant to a case or an investigation." Of course that "presupposes that the information in the subpoenaed sermons really is substantially relevant to a case or an investigation" and that is a stretch given that the subpoena demands from the churches affected access to “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession." In other words, it's a fishing expedition.
At the very, very least, this is the work of an overly aggressive attorney who has little regard for the bad politics and bad PR involved. At the worst, it's a craven abuse of power by Mayor Parker which may be animated by hatred for conservative ministers who are critical not only of her policies but of her being a lesbian.
There's also little doubt that if a conservative Republican mayor sought to subpoena the sermons of politically liberal churches or of mosques that this would be a shocking story of national import and treated as such with attention by the broadcast networks on their evening newscasts.
We at NewsBusters will continue to monitor ABC, CBS, and NBC for any such coverage, but to date there has been none.