Lawyers acting on behalf of Houston Mayor Annise Parker last month issued subpoenas to “several high-profile pastors and religious leaders” demanding they turn over to the government “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO [the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance], the Petition [to put HERO on the November ballot so that the people could vote it up or down], Mayor Annise Parker [yes, as she clearly said, “The debate is about me.”], homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
Now, some people have found Mayor Parker’s subpoenas to be a chilling harbinger of a potential violation of the 1st Amendment rights of these clergy. And on first glance, it appears that might be the case. But this is America, and certainly no government official would ever violate the Constitutional rights of the citizenry. Right?Let’s review the things the Mayor is Constitutionally forbidden to do — and which, therefore, I am certain she would never do (he said, with all the innocence of the truly naive). In a mere 45 words, the Constitution’s 1st Amendment guarantees the following:
- The government (and thanks to the 14th Amendment, this includes state and city governments) cannot set up (establish) a national or state or city religion. (This is known as in legal circles as “The Establishment Clause,” not “The Separation-of-Church-and-State Clause.” More on that important distinction in a future essay, perhaps.)
- Nor may the government coerce Americans (including the clergy who received the subpoenas) concerning what their religious beliefs may or may not be.
- The government may not keep them from exercising those religious beliefs, in whatever ways those beliefs require.
- And the government may not prevent them from saying or publishing whatever they wish about those religious beliefs (or anything else, for that matter).
- Not that it could happen in America, but if these religious people felt that elements in government were, hypothetically, sending out subpoenas maliciously in an attempt to do any of the things listed above that government cannot do, those religious people have the right to band together (an example of which, chosen completely at random, might be a national organization like the Alliance Defending Freedom).
- And finally, that freely banded-together group has every right to demand that the government stop violating its members’ rights and leave them the heck alone. (Pardon my french.)
Since she would never violate any of the above prohibitions, clearly there must have been some other, totally benign reason that the Mayor subpoenaed those sermons.
I prefer to believe that she must have demanded all of these documents in order to read, learn, and educate herself on the arguments coming from all diverse sides of these issues. And not just the issues; this would include her sincere desire to know how her constituents feel about her personally (“The debate is about me.” ), so that she can most effectively represent all of the diverse communities in Houston. Thus, she must be demonstrating how much she values the ministers’ convictions, only issuing the subpoenas as the easiest way to demonstrate how eagerly and quickly she wants to be more informed and to make inclusive judgments which follow the will of the people.
My Modest Proposal. With all of the above in mind, therefore, I propose that every deacon, pastor, parson, preacher, minister, priest, rector, missionary, chaplain, evangelist, cleric, prelate, curate, elder, dean, bishop, abbot/abbess, monsignor, archbishop Sunday/Sabbath School teacher, and Vacation Bible School leader from every church in the entire nation send to the Mayor every sermon, tract, monograph, bible study, book chapter, interview transcript, radio and tv program, and even jottings on a paper napkin they’ve ever done, which even remotely touch on the subjects included in the Mayor’s subpoenas.
Send one item per envelope or email. This will get her staff’s attention, and let them know unambiguously how sincere you are in your support of the Mayor’s self-educational endeavors. Or, if you prefer, call and give an unhurried, detailed reading of these documents over the phone. I’m providing the contact information below to help you assist the Mayor in accomplishing her personal goal to be educated about and tolerant of all points of view:
Mayor Annise Parker, 901 Bagby Street, Houston, TX 77002
Phone: (713) 837-0311
Oh, and in each communication, be sure to tell the Mayor how glad you are that she is not abusing the 1st Amendment rights of your fellow Christians, and just how angry (perhaps even litigious) you would become if any government official ever tried to do so.
Let me know how this works for you!
A Postscript for all fans of the television show The Big Bang Theory:
Sheldon, before you ask… Yes… Everything I said above about the Mayor’s actions and motives do fall under the Constitutionally protected category of sarcasm.