The city of Houston has reportedly demanded that a group of prominent pastors hand over their sermons for approval prior to delivering them, in an alleged effort to stop them from expressing negative views against homosexuality or gender identity.
Five pastors have received subpoenas, reports Fox News, and if they refuse to provide their sermons, could be held in contempt of court.
In a statement, Christina Holcomb, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom said: “The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented. The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”
The move comes just months after the city of Houston unveiled a new non-discrimination ordinance that makes it possible to fine citizens and businesses up to $5,000 if they discriminate against others based on race, religion or sexual orientation. Although religious organizations were originally said to be exempt from the ordinance, according to KHOU, Mayor Annise Parker has reportedly called for the subpoenas, though she isn’t providing an explanation for them.
“We don’t comment on litigation,” said city spokesperson Janice Evans.
But Steve Riggle, senior pastor at Grace Community Church – who was ordered to hand over his sermon – says her motive is clear.
“This is an attempt to chill pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day,” Riggle said. “The mayor would like to silence our voice. She’s a bully.”
Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, called on the city’s pastors to stand up against what he perceives to be a threat to their Constitutional rights.
“The state is breaching the wall of separation between church and state,” Perkins said. “Pastors need to step forward and challenge this across the country. I’d like to see literally thousands of pastors after they read this story begin to challenge government authorities – to dare them to come into their churches and demand their sermons. This is a shot across the bow of the church.”