The Mayor of Houston’s recent subpoena of sermons by Christian pastors in the country’s fourth largest city is a shocking violation of First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. There is no clearer violation of First Amendment freedoms than for government officials to attempt to censor religious speech.

Lawyers for the Christian pastors were prepared to sue to quash these subpoenas — and would have succeeded quickly in the courts on Constitutional grounds – when the Mayor withdrew the subpoenas amid an uproar of protest.

So why would Annise Parker, the Houston mayor, issue such subpoenas at all if a court would have stopped her from forcing the pastors to comply? Probably because she is playing for much larger political and constitutional stakes than the power to coerce disclosure of the communications five Houston pastors.

Her signature initiative–the so-called “bathroom bill”, a city ordinance that she championed and signed last May–is being threatened by a public campaign to repeal it in a referendum . The City has challenged the validity of the signatures the citizens collected to force a vote on the ordinance, which led a group of them to sue the City. Mayor Parker responded by subpoenaing five Houston pastors who oppose the ordinance, but who are not even parties to the lawsuit.

In politics, if politicians are not succeeding in their arguments, they change the subject. And Mayor Parker apparently is not succeeding in her defense of a law that opponents claim creates a right, among other newly created sexual and gender identity rights, for anyone to use public bathrooms of the opposite sex in the name of gender rights equality.

Losing her own argument, she’s changing the subject. And if you’re a liberal mayor trying to create new sexual and gender identity rights, there’s apparently no better object on which to refocus the public than the Christian pastors and their beliefs on gender and sexuality.

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