Houston Mayor Annise Parker (D) announced Wednesday that the city was withdrawing subpoenas that had been issued to five pastors who helped lead the effort to challenge the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) with a referendum.
With assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the pastors had filed suit to challenge the subpoenas, arguing that they were an undue burden on the pastors, who are not party to a separate lawsuit challenging the city’s rejection of petition signatures. The city had originally clarified that its only goal was to collect information about the signature collection process, but after speaking with two groups of the pastors, Parker decided that the city could defend the ordinance without use of the subpoenas.
At a press conference Wednesday, Parker explained that the pastors convinced her that the burden of the subpoenas had made the issue too much about religious freedom. “I don’t want to have a national debate about freedom of religion,” she said, “when my whole purpose is to defend a strong and wonderful and appropriate city ordinance against local attack, and by taking this step today we remove that discussion about freedom of religion.”
ADF attorney Erik Stanley declared victory in response to the withdrawal, expressing thanks “that the First Amendment rights of the pastors have triumphed over government overreach and intimidation.” He still chastised the city for its “abuse of power” when it “arbitrarily threw out the valid signatures of thousands of voters.” City Attorney David Feldman had found that whole pages of signatures were not, in fact, valid, because they were not properly completed as city law required.
According to Jared Woodfill, who filed the suit seeking to have the petitions accepted, said that this weekend’s “I Stand Sunday” rally in protest of the subpoenas and HERO will proceed as planned.