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The outrage machine is fully engaged

We’ll see how long they can keep it up.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

A legal battle between the city of Houston and religious leaders has erupted into a national debate this week about religious liberty and freedom of speech, even as Mayor Annise Parker argued the controversy was based on a misunderstanding.

Conservative lawmakers and activists expressed outrage upon learning that lawyers acting on behalf of the city had sent subpoenas this month to pastors who had vocally supported a failed petition drive aimed at repealing Houston’s equal rights ordinance.


Various public officials, including religious liberty advocates, have condemned the subpoenas as censorship and an attack on religious liberty.

“This week, the government of Houston, Texas, sent a subpoena to silence prayers,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said Thursday at a news conference in Houston.

Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Houston City Attorney David Feldman urging him to withdraw the subpoenas.

“No matter what public policy is at stake, government officials must exercise the utmost care when our work touches on religious matters,” Abbott wrote. “If we err, it must be on the side of preserving the autonomy of religious institutions and the liberty of religious believers. Your aggressive and invasive subpoenas show no regard for the very serious First Amendment considerations at stake.”

State Sen. Ken Paxton, the Republican candidate to replace Abbott as attorney general, called the subpeonas “unacceptable.”

“Not only does this infringe upon the right to Freedom of Speech, but it also grossly encroaches upon our Freedom of Religion — both fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution,” Paxton said.

Blah blah blah and so on and so forth. I agree that the subpoenas were too broad. I might have some sympathy for the pastors if there were anything sympathetic about them, but man, the lies lies lies lies. You’d think by now I’d be used to it, but somehow I’m still amazed by these guys and their loudest defenders to just say whatever the hell they think without any regard for its truthfulness. It’s impressive it its way, and it does do the job of getting some people riled up. You’d just think they might be more concerned about the cost to their souls than a heathen like me.

Both Parker and Feldman have said that they did not approve the subpoenas ahead of time and first saw the language used in them on Tuesday. The subpoenas were handled by outside lawyers working on behalf of the city. Both agreed that the language in the subpoenas was overly broad and would be clarified.

“We are not interested at all in what some person may have preached about me or the GLBT community,” Parker said Wednesday at a news conference. “People are rightly concerned if a government entity tries to in any way inhibit religious speech. That is not the intent.”

Parker said the goal of the subpoenas was to see if there were any specific instructions given by pastors about how the petitions should be filled out. She suggested that the outrage over the word “sermon” in the supboneas may have been due to “deliberate misinterpretation.”

“Let me just say that one word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read and I’m vilified coast to coast — it’s a normal day at the office for me,” Parker said.

That’s about the right response. Parker and Feldman have addressed the substantive issue. I hope they don’t get intimidated by the BS onslaught. The city should be on firm ground seeking communications about specific petition instructions. Amend the subpoenas as needed, stick to that, and let the blowhards wear themselves out. For some guidance on how to think about this, go read The Slacktivist, and for a straightforward recital of the boring facts, see Media Matters.

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One Comment

  1. John says:

    Parker and/or Feldman are lying, there is no way the language in the subpoenas were seen by them on Tuesday for the first time. They both knew exactly what was going out, it is not like the outside law firm just sent them without consulting someone at the city. Find the e-mails and who Susman sent the drafts. I am not a lawyer but have been involved in lawsuits before subpoenas are pretty clear on who they want and what they want. Someone from the city had a hand in what language was inserted. This is one issue Parker needs to own rather than claim ignorance and blame others

    I am not defending the preachers, but Parker dropped the ball and she is the Mayor so all of the good and bad belong to her. It is called being a leader. I have my own company and I take responsibility for EVERYTHING not selectively like politicians. Annise needs to be a big girl and take the blame.