Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the courthouse....

Yes, twice in a row; but is it my fault there's so much legal stuff to cover all at once?

Speaking of things in Texas, it seems we are in the news for other reasons:

Houston's embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists who have sued the city.
Sorry we can't read more of that there, but it gives you the most information I have on this issue.  "Conservative media" is screaming, but then, that's what they do:
It is astounding to have to say that most Houston citizens – including most Christians and pastors – are still unaware of the radical nature of Mayor Annise Parker’s commitment to imposing the full “San Francisco Style” Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, etc. agenda. … We have a sin-sick city and we need the power of God through Jesus Christ changing lives and changing City Hall!
 For the record, I like our mayor, and so does most of the city, since she was re-elected rather handily since that denunciation was recorded.  So this is a very definitely minority view in Houston.

But anger over the subpoenas apparently is not:

The Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and an advocate for both LGBT rights and religious liberty, has penned a letter to Houston’s Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman, opposing the subpoenas. “I will work as hard to defend the freedom of speech from the pulpit for those with whom I disagree, as I will to defend the rights of the LGBT community. As long as a sermon is not inciting violence, the government has no business getting involved in the content of ministers’ sermons,” Gaddy wrote.
When I was working for a law firm (before law school; yes, it's been a long and checkered career at chez Adventus), I quickly learned that the next thing I said on the phone after "I work for ---------- law firm," was to reassure the party on the other end that they weren't in trouble, they weren't being sued, and in fact I was a nice guy with no ulterior motives.  Had to do that a few times as a lawyer, too.

People are afraid of lawyers.  And I guess when you combine "subpoena" (which is issued by the government; in this case, a court of law) and "City Hall," suddenly everybody hears jackboots ringing on the floor.

Seems there is a lawsuit, NOT filed by the City but against it, by:

activists who claim the City wrongfully rejected their effort to put a recently-passed amendment to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance up for a voter referendum. The recent change to the law would bar businesses from denying a transgender person entry to a restroom consistent with his or her gender identity. After the city attorney ruled that many of the signatures collected for the referendum petition were invalid, the petitioners no longer had the requisite number of signatures to place the referendum on the ballot.
So lawyers working pro bono for the city (not city attorneys, IOW, who might have consulted with Herroner), issued subpoenas duces tecum (Law talk!  Very scary!):

The subpoenas, served on pastors who are not litigants in the lawsuit, seek a broad range of documents and communications, including sermons, regarding their statements on homosexuality, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), and the petition process. Represented by the religious right legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom, the pastors are seeking to quash the subpoenas.

Now maybe these subpoenas go beyond the pale, maybe not.  I'd let the court decide, myself.  Discovery in civil cases is very open-ended, and non-parties can be asked to turn over documents that might be useful to the defense of a case.  According to the Houston Chronicle, these pastors are not just names drawn from a hat, but people associated with the plaintiffs in this lawsuit; or may associated with people associated with the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. I dunno, to be honest.  And the further you get from the plaintiffs, the less legal ground you have for the subpoenas.  But a court issued these at the request of the defense lawyers, so some judge has already decided this is not a bad idea on its face.

It may still be a bad idea on reflection, of course.

I was mostly moved by the statement of the Rev. Gaddy, who somehow imagines this is a free speech case and his rights are tied up with the rights of the subpoenaed pastors.  Personally, you want my sermons, come and get 'em.  I gave them (o long, long ago!) in public; there's nothing in 'em I don't want people to read.    This isn't the government "getting involved in the content of sermons."  This is the government trying to defend itself in a civil suit.

Now, some of the documents may not be amenable to discovery.  As I say, civil discovery is broad, and its best to go on a "fishing expedition" as much as you can; never know what you might net, and the Texas courts are usually lenient in these matters.  I can understand the conservative pastors screaming about what this lesbian mayor is doing to them now.  I can almost understand the hyperventilating about the 1st Amendment.  But the Rev. Gaddy needs a calm voice from a knowledgeable source to tell him he's not about to be frog-marched into the city jail, and a subpoena for his sermons would hardly be equivalent to censorship.

I mean, seriously, you give those things in public.  You speak them out loud to large rooms.  What difference do you think it makes if someone wants to read the paper version?

Hell, I'd be flattered.

1 comment:

  1. This is an area where Free Speech and tax-exempt institutions get confused again. Institutions are tax-exempt w/ the EXPLICIT understanding that their speech is NOT free to go into explicitly political areas ("Vote for Jones"/"Vote Against the Gay Rights Ordinance"). You can have free speech, but then you have to pay taxes (NOT as punishment, but just as a price of citizenship).

    I resent these particular religious institutions who think they can have it both ways, and Gaddy SHOULD understand the difference.