When an alert reader first brought this news item to my attention I was certain that someone had taken an item from the satirical website The Onion and disguised it as a news story.
I imagined the original headline had to have been something like: “Houston’s tolerant city officials will not tolerate any intolerance whatsoever.”
But, no, gentle reader, there appear to be too many references to this news from the Houston Chronicle to Fox News to a Houston TV station.
The lede on the Chronicle story reads:
“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.”
Specifically the subpoenas are demanding copies of “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” Mayor Parker is Houston’s first openly lesbian mayor.
HERO is the acronym for Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. This ordinance apparently protects transgendered person’s “right” to use a restroom consistent with that person’s “gender expression,” regardless of actual biological sex. Opponents have dubbed it the “Sexual Predator Protection Act.”
According to a Fox News account, ministers who fail to comply with the subpoena could be held in contempt of court.
“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christina Holcomb said in a statement. “The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”
Opponents of the ordinance, passed in June, gathered 50,000 signatures – far more than the 17,269 needed — but the petition was thrown out due to alleged irregularities.
A court date on litigation aimed at repealing the ordinance is set for January and the subpoenas are part of the discovery for the case on behalf of the city.
City Attorney David Feldman told the Chronicle that the pastors’ sermons are relevant to the case because they used the pulpit for political campaigning that encouraged members to sign petitions opposing the ordinance.
Ordinance opponent, Erik Stanley, an attorney for a group called Alliance Defending Freedom, told Fox News, “City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge. This is designed to intimidate pastors.”
In this day and age of constant social media posts and purloined audio and video posted on the Internet, do the Houston officials really even need a subpoena? Perhaps they could take a page from George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”:
“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
And once you are found out, there is the certain outcome:
“We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instance of death we cannot permit any deviation … we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.”