Mayor Parker withdraws subpoenas issued to Houston pastors in HERO lawsuit

By Courtney Gilmore - Anchor/Reporter

HOUSTON - Houston Mayor Annise Parker has decided to withdraw the subpoena of sermons and other communications belonging to several pastors in a lawsuit involving the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. 

"After much contemplation and discussion, I am directing the city legal department to withdraw the subpoenas issued to the five Houston pastors who delivered the petitions, the anti-HERO petitions, to the city of Houston and who indicated that they were responsible for the overall petition effort," said Parker.

The mayor made the announcement Wednesday during a press conference.  She said the decision came after meeting this week with local pastors and clergymen from across the country.  "These pastors came to me for civil discussions about the issues," said Parker.  "They came without political agendas, without hate in their hearts and without any desire to debate the merits of the HERO.  They simply wanted to express their passionate and very sincere concerns about the subpoenas.  The second meeting group wasn't from Houston, but they took the Houston approach of civil discourse in presenting their case.  We gained an understanding of each other's positions." 

"It is extremely important to me to protect our Equal Rights Ordinance from repeal, and it is extremely important to me to make sure that every Houstonian knows that their lives are valid and protected and acknowledged," Parker said. "We are going to continue to vigorously defend our ordinance against repeal efforts."

After the press conference, Andy Taylor, a lawyer representing opponents of HERO in the lawsuit, said voters should ultimately decide on whether or to pass the ordinance. He also said the public could look at throwing Parker out of office with a recall election, if the mayor does not allow voters to decide. 

Support from pastors across the U.S.

The mayor's announcement comes one day after pastors from across the nation descended upon Houston to support local pastors.

The pastors said they were taking a stand against the violations of First Amendment rights and freedoms by Parker and City Attorney David Feldman with the subpoenaing of sermons and church communications. 

After receiving backlash, Parker instructed the city's legal team to narrow the scope of the subpoenas. The mayor said she never intended to intrude on manners of faith, but only focus on the petition process.

"When the petitions are investigated we are clearly convinced that we did this right, that there are plenty of valid signatures," said Pastor Steve Riggle with Grace Community Church.

Riggle is among the five pastors who were subpoenaed by the city. The others are Hernan Castano, Magda Hermida, Khan Huynh and David Welch.

The mayor said the city was seeking information from the five pastors on all speeches or presentations related to HERO or the petition prepared by, delivered by, revised by or approved by them or in their possession, but not on their sermons.

"This is not about what anyone is preaching, this is not about religion, this is not about anyone exercising their religion... this is about the petition process," said Parker. "We don't want their sermons."

A spokesperson with the mayor's office told Local 2 that more than 1,000 bibles were sent to the mayor's office in protest. Parker said those bibles will be donated to pastors across Houston.  The Houston Police Officer's union has also expressed interest in getting some of the donated bibles. 

Copyright 2014 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.