First, this is a remarkably dumb law* that will protect no one and is wholly unenforceable:
Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law legislation shielding pastors' sermons from government subpoena power.Which is why it was passed into law and became effective immediately, rather than in September, as most Texas laws do. But this is the part that sets the place where Abbott held his ceremony (the actual bill was signed Friday) on Saturday:
Authored by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, SB 24 says a government cannot "compel the production or disclosure of a written copy or audio or video recording of a sermon delivered by a religious leader during religious worship ... or compel the religious leader to testify regarding the sermon." It went into effect immediately when it was formally signed by Abbott on Friday in Austin.
“Texas law now will be your strength and your sword and your shield," Abbott said, invoking Bible verse as he addressed the 11 a.m. service at Grace Church. "You will be shielded by any effort by any other government official in any other part of the state of Texas from having subpoenas to try to pry into what you’re doing here in your churches."
That language puts Abbott firmly in the Donald Trump Christian Camp. It's no accident Abbott chose a "community church" for his spectacle, or that they agreed to it, or that he got away with language that a good Southern Baptist preacher would tell him was idolatrous. When you take Biblical sounding phrases and replace anything, but especially the law, with "God," you have created an idol of the law (or whatever you substitute). The Lovely Wife was listening to the preacher of the biggest Baptist Church in town on Sunday morning, as she flipped channels. He preached on Moses and the need to be centered on God, not on what you want (Moses was quite reluctant to lead Israel out of Egypt, at least at first). She then caught Joel Osteen, whose message was all about how interested God was in you and what you wanted.
A stark contrast, in other words, between a preacher of Scriptures, and a preacher of what-you-want-to-hear. I may have my disagreements with the Baptists, but I disagree more basically and profoundly with non-denominational churches that preach a sort of American creed of the supremacy of what they want.
A subpoena of a sermon is not, of course, prying "into what your doing here in your churches." Sermons are public speeches. Many of the pastors affected by the subpoena effort in Houston were: a) parties to the lawsuit, and b) broadcast their sermons as far and wide as possible. Asking for a transcript is not exactly interfering with your right to worship. But now Texas law will protect those churches, because apparently God can't be bothered with such things.
*the then Mayor of Houston didn't want the sermons subjected to subpoena; she knew the political shitstorm it would stir. Unfortunately, the City was represented by outside counsel in the suit, and they were politically tone-deaf. Note, also, this law only applies to state governments, and the next time government at any level in Texas wants to subpoena sermons, hell will be freezing over. Private parties, of course, can subpoena away in the context of a lawsuit. But who ever sues churches?