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City files amended petitions

From the inbox:


As follow up to a promise made earlier in the week, the City of Houston has revised its subpoenas in the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) repeal petition case. The disputed request has been narrowed to focus solely on communications related to HERO and the petition gathering process. There is no mention whatsoever of pastors sermons.

“The original subpoenas for sermons that were filed by pro bono attorneys helping the city prepare for the January trial in this case were far too broad,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “I support the right of the clergy to say whatever they want to say, even if I disagree with them. This is not about what they may be preaching from the pulpit. It is about proving that the petition gathering process organized by these pastors did not meet the requirements of the City Charter. This information is critical to proving the city’s contention that the petition was ineligible for placement on the ballot and that the organizers knew this.”

The city is seeking information from just five pastors who were at the forefront of organizing the petition drive: Pastor Hernan Castano, Ms. Magda Hermida, Pastor Khan Huynh, Pastor Steve Riggle and Pastor David Welch. The revised subpoenas now call for all speeches or presentations related to HERO or the petition prepared by, delivered by, revised by or approved by them or in their possession.

According to the City Charter, a valid petition must contain enough signatures of registered voters to at least equal 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last mayoral election. Each signature must be accompanied by the printed name, address, voter registration number or date of birth and the date signed. Anyone who collected signatures must also have personally signed the petition and have appeared before a notary to acknowledge under oath that the signatures were made in their presence. Thousands of the signatures submitted with the HERO petition failed to meet one or more of these requirements and had to be disregarded. As a result, the petition could not be placed before voters. HERO opponents have filed suit against the city in an effort to reverse this decision and force the issue onto the ballot. The case is set for trial in January.

The press release document is here. One would think this would be the end of it, but that would depend on the opposition being honorable. I wouldn’t count on that.

Conservative leader Jared Woodfill, one of four plaintiffs in the suit, said the revision does not go far enough. The city needs to withdraw any subpoena related to pastors or religious institutions, he said, arguing Houston can build its case from the documents already subpoenaed from the plaintiffs, such as information about the people who circulated the petitions.

“The mayor needs to get the city out of the business of subpoenaing churches. There’s absolutely no reason for this city to be trampling on the First Amendment rights of these pastors,” Woodfill said. “It starts with these five, and then who’s next? There were pastors all across the state talking about the HERO ordinance.”

Woodfill’s thoughts were echoed by national conservative groups.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins called the revision a “head-fake” that does not remove the city’s infringement of religious liberties, and Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Erik Stanley said the revision “solves nothing.”

Any time the Liar Tony Perkins is involved, you can throw honor and decency out the window. And if Jared Woodfill doesn’t like getting subpoenaed, he can drop the lawsuit. It wasn’t the city that started this fight, after all. I’m glad the city made this adjustment, but everyone needs to chill and the plaintiffs and their sycophants need to get over themselves. Statements from Equality Texas and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus are beneath the fold, and Texas Monthly has more.

Statement from Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith:

Equality Texas applauds Houston Mayor Annise Parker for acknowledging that the previous request for subpoenas was overly broad. We thank her for amending the City of Houston’s request for subpoenas to seek only what is relevant for the litigation now pending.

Equality Texas continues to stand squarely in support of religious freedom, and in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. We are grateful to the many religious leaders who have supported HERO and look forward to the day that HERO is implemented in Houston.

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus supports Mayor Annise Parker in defending the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Subpoenas were issued to certain pastors in the litigation over HERO earlier this week. These requests have triggered a national dialogue about the appropriate scope of the City of Houston’s inquiry in that matter. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus fully recognizes the need for the City of Houston to conduct discovery to which it is legally entitled about the claims and defenses in this suit. The Caucus will not substitute its judgment for the judgment of the City’s outstanding legal team, which has access to all of the information in this case, and the equally capable presiding judge, whom we trust will appropriately balance the interests of those involved.

The Caucus recognizes that any time that the government acts in a way that could be perceived to infringe upon civil rights, all civil rights organizations, including ours, should take notice. We applaud Mayor Parker and her legal team for recognizing that the City should request as little as is necessary to defend this suit. Mayor Parker immediately and voluntarily acted to direct the City’s attorneys to narrow the requests to these pastors–witnesses in this matter who participated in the gathering of political petition signatures. Mayor Parker advanced the civil rights of our community in advocating for a passing HERO, and she once again champions the civil rights of even those with whom she disagrees. Unfortunately, the pastors in question continue to seek to deny basic civil rights to the LGBT community, so we would like to remind everyone that the fight over HERO is about our civil rights. We call on the plaintiffs and the pastors associated with them to drop this litigation immediately. Then, the freedoms that these opponents of equality reserve to themselves may finally be enjoyed by Houston’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens.

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