Pastors from across US join subpoenaed pastors at Equal Rights Ordinance press conference

By Courtney Gilmore - Anchor/Reporter, Nakia Cooper - Senior Web Editor

HOUSTON - The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance battle has crossed state lines as local pastors were joined by pastors from across the nation at a Tuesday press conference.

"Stand up to the people that think they can silence us. They think they have won but they have not won," said Rev. Williams Owen with the Coalition of African-American Pastors.

Pastors from St. Louis, San Diego, leaders from Detroit to Minneapolis gathered Tuesday in Houston to support local pastors at the center of a city lawsuit.

"Don't mess with any God-fearing American and do not mess with America's pulpits," said activist Cherilyn Eagar.

"We are in it because you deny our people the right to vote," said Pastor F.N. Williams with the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

The pastors said they are taking a stand against the violations of First Amendment rights and freedoms by Houston Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman with the subpoenaing of sermons and church communications.  After receiving backlash, Parker has since instructed the city's legal team to narrow the scope of the subpoenas.  The mayor said she never intended to intrude on the manners of faith, she is only focusing 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 other four are Pastor Hernan Castano, Ms. Magda Hermida, Pastor Khan Huynh and Pastor David Welch.

The mayor said the city is 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 have been sent to the mayor's office in protest.

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