Churches have received subpoenas issued by the city of Houston demanding copies of sermons.
Houston is probing opposition to a ballot referendum pertaining to an ordinance proposing a local discrimination law affecting gays. (Bryan Preston posted this summary of the lawlessness taking place in Houston.) Over 50,000 petition signatures were gathered opposing the ordinance. Now the city, run by the first openly gay mayor, Annise Parker, is retaliating and demanding that churches turn over sermons.
You read that correctly.
This is the sort of government behavior that used to be confined to two-bit third-world regimes.
The gay rights movement was on solidly moral ground when it sought to end laws criminalizing private consensual conduct between adults. But like so many other elements of the “civil rights” movement, it abandons the moral high ground when it starts using the government to shake down political opponents.
This is the same species of shakedown the IRS conducted. Don’t like your political opponents? Then use government power to harass them. Send them intrusive inquiries and let them know who is boss.
In Houston, the boss is looking for payback.
You wonder if the officials pushing these subpoenas against the churches have ever been to church. Signs point to no — because how many “sermons” are actually reduced to a document?
Not all of the best ones, I can attest.
This is the same sort of thuggish behavior we saw out of the Tom Perez-run Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. Don’t like Christian and Catholic pro-life activists? Drag them to court on phony charges. Harass them and make them bleed. The process is the pain, never mind the merits.
But every one of these harassing actions requires a signature — a signature of someone willing to act in confederacy with thuggery from other petty officials throughout history.
No doubt the lawyers signing complaints and subpoenas see nothing wrong with what they do. They will offer a litany of reasons why their thuggish actions are justified, and are in fact not thuggish.
Here is one such complaint that details the lawyers behind the harassing lawsuit. This is the document the Justice Department used to launch an eventually discredited crusade against Mary Sue Pine, a peaceful pro-life protester in Florida. The federal court tossed the case as lacking merit. As Hans von Spakovsky has written about the case:
Judge Kenneth Ryskamp was left to wonder at the near-total lack of evidence offered by the prosecution. The government was unable to show that Pine had in fact violated any provision of the FACE Act; prosecutors had no evidence that she had injured, intimidated, or interfered with the people she spoke to on a public sidewalk. It was not even clear that the people she was talking to were entering the abortion clinic.
Aaron Zisser: Mr. Zisser joined the Special Litigation Section after working as a staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, a branch of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Before that, he was a fellow at “Human Rights First,” where he traveled to Guantanamo Bay to observe the prosecution of Osama Bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan, before a military tribunal. He wrote a series of blog posts for the liberal American Constitution Society criticizing the prosecution of detainees and suggesting that such terrorists were being deprived of their rights (see here, here, here, and here).
Before graduating to his criticism of U.S. terrorism policies, Mr. Zisser interned at the ACLU, the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Orleans Parish (La.) Indigent Defender Board, and the Santa Clara County (Calif.) Public Defender’s Office. A proud member of the American Constitution Society, he also participated in Georgetown Law School’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, where he advocated greater reproductive rights (read: abortion) for women.
Mary Sue Pine, and would-be Mary Sue Pines, got the message — act on your faith, be prepared to pay the price. What the progressives who launch this harassment may never quite appreciate is that people like Mary Sue Pine have been willing to pay the price for 2,000 years. A lawsuit or subpoena is relatively small stuff.
Whether the new mayor in Houston or the attorney general in Washington, D.C., activists with government paychecks have mastered the art of using their power to harass political opponents, particularly those who act on their religious convictions.
Related at the PJ Tatler: Why Is Houston Mayor Annise Parker Subpoenaing Pastors for Sermons that are Already Publicly Available?