On Monday, the not-entirely-reliable site World Net Daily reported that the Annise Parker Administration had subpoenaed the sermons and other communications of certain pastors who have been critical of Mayor Annise Parker’s preoccupation with imposing her preferences for gender self-identification on the city.
By Tuesday, more reliable media outlets had looked into the matter, confirming the reporting from World Net Daily:
In a subpoena to five members of the Houston Area Pastors Council, the city is requesting a long list of documents and communications. Among them are “all speeches, presentations, or sermons” related to the Equal Rights Ordinance and “all communications with members of your congregation” regarding it and the failed petition against it.
It is the city’s latest move as it defends itself against a lawsuit filed in August requesting the ordinance be suspended.
Mayor Annise Parker, City Attorney David Feldman defend subpoenas
Expensive City Attorney David Feldman pointedly defended the Parker Administration’s (constitutionally questionable and politically silly) move:
Some [petition] signatures were acquired at churches which make the sermons fair game, according to City Attorney Dave Feldman.
“If they choose to do this inside the church, choose to do this from the pulpit, then they open the door to the questions being asked,” Feldman said.
On twitter, Mayor Annise Parker echoed her City Attorney’s defense of the subpoenas:
As of Tuesday night, the two key decision-makers with regard to the Parker Administration’s legal strategy clearly were in full-on defense mode, and ready to take no prisoners with regard to their perceived political enemies (in the local clergy).
Wednesday: The Parker Administration backtracks
The storm of criticism from both the right and left apparently prodded both Parker and Feldman on Wednesday to back away from what they had said just hours earlier:
Houston Mayor Annise Parker is doing damage control after national media picked up on her subpoenas targeting local clergy who protested her equal rights ordinance.
The mayor says the subpoenas were too broad, and should not have included actual sermons.
City Attorney David Feldman says he didn’t review the subpoenas before they were issued.
“When I looked at it I felt it was overly broad, I would not have worded it that way myself,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it has been construed as some effort to infringe upon religious liberty.”
It was construed as an effort to infringe upon religious liberty because that’s exactly what it was (and it might also be interpreted as a thuggish attempt to silence political enemies that should never be undertaken by government officials).
The Parker Administration’s PR rep (and chief policy advisor) also trotted out the “we’re not malicious, just incompetent” defense on twitter:
MYR @AnniseParker says people are right to be concerned about her legal department’s subpoenas for pastor’s sermons.
— Janice Evans (@Jevansdavis) October 15, 2014
Subpoenas were issued by pro bono attornies helping city prepare 4 #HERO trial. Both mayor and city attorney were unaware til yesterday.
— Janice Evans (@Jevansdavis) October 15, 2014
Public servants should tell the truth
The vigor with which Mayor Parker AND City Attorney Feldman were defending the city’s legal action just hours before makes it difficult to take their later statements seriously. It requires one to believe Mayor Parker was incompetent enough to defend a policy she clearly didn’t understand, only to “see the light” a few hours later (okay, when it comes to the mayor, that degree of incompetence actually IS plausible). It further requires one to believe that one of the most highly paid public officials in Texas, the city’s top legal official and one who CLEARLY relishes his power and position, somehow had an utterly incompetent moment in which he was completely absent on important Parker Administration legal policymaking. That is FAR LESS plausible.
We understand that politicians often feel the need to say anything to get past a bad media cycle, but we would really prefer they tell the truth.
Neither Parker nor Feldman have promised all that much, really, but given Mayor Parker’s prior history of not telling the truth (on the rain tax), we will believe the scope of those subpoenas will be narrowed when we actually see the revisions. Here’s hoping at least some outlet — perhaps World Net Daily! — will keep a close eye on the administration’s (promised) legal moves.
UPDATE (10-16-2014): In an interview with Michael Berry, the lead counsel for the pastors points out that David Feldman was copied on emails dating back weeks, and knew EXACTLY what was in those subpoenas. So the Parker Administration appears to be lying (again).
- Subpoena of Pastor Dave Welch (pdf)
- Letter to City Attorney Dave Feldman from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (pdf)
- Reckless at Houston City Hall – Ben Hall (pdf)
- Don’t intimidate – Houston Chronicle
- 85,095 Mail Ballot Requests and Everybody Else Got It Wrong – Marc Campos
- The Houston Chronicle did something right today – Unca Darrell