I saw several people denouncing this on social media, and I assumed they were exaggerating. But no, the city of Houston has been subpoenaing local pastors for written copies of their sermons. As the Houston Chronicle explains:
Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists that have sued the city.
Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldman wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. City attorneys issued subpoenas last month during the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
The subpoenas were issued to several high-profile pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance. The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a motion on behalf of the pastors seeking to quash the subpoenas.
The slippery-slope danger here is obvious: It’s very bad news if people worry that their public advocacy for an upcoming vote can invite government scrutiny.
However, beyond the obvious issues, let me raise the more general problem of taxation: The government can always justify its investigations into church sermons or the activities of many not-for-profit organizations because their special tax treatment comes with strings attached. Namely, they are not supposed to agitate for specific political candidates or other causes. Indeed, the cheekily titled “Freedom From Religion Foundation” organization won a lawsuit earlier this summer (filed in 2012) in which the IRS agreed to step up its monitoring of churches in this respect.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)