(CNSNews.com) – Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Wednesday she has instructed city lawyers to withdraw subpoenas ordering five local pastors to turn over all sermons and other communications relating to their opposition to an ordinance that allows transgender people to use any public bathroom regardless of gender.
"After much contemplation and discussion, I am directing the city legal department to withdraw the subpoenas issued to the five Houston pastors who delivered the petitions, the anti-HERO petitions, to the city of Houston and who indicated that they were responsible for the overall petition effort,” Parker, the city’s first lesbian mayor, told a press conference.
She vowed to keep the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) – dubbed the “bathroom bill” by critics – in place.
“It is extremely important to me to protect our Equal Rights Ordinance from repeal, and it is extremely important to me to make sure that every Houstonian knows that their lives are valid and protected and acknowledged,” Parker said.
“We are going to continue to vigorously defend our ordinance against repeal efforts.”
After the city last May passed the HERO, designed to “protect” transgender people, including allowing them to use any public bathroom regardless of gender, a large group of churches joined in a petition campaign for a ballot referendum, allowing voters to decide on the matter.
Although the city secretary certified the more than 50,000 signatures on the petition – three times more than the 17,269 signatures required – the city attorney disqualified the petition citing “irregularities.”
After the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit challenging the HERO, the city subpoenaed five pastors who opposed the ordinance, even though they were not technically party to the suit.
Despite Parker’s reversal on the subpoenas, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said a rally scheduled for Sunday at the Grace Community Church in Houston will still take place because pastors and religious leaders from across the country, due to take part in person or online, want to speak out about what he called “political intimidation’ and the threat to religious liberty.
“While we are encouraged by this evidence that the mayor is responding to pressure and withdrawing her unconstitutional subpoenas, this is about far more than subpoenas,” Perkins said.
“As we have stated since the beginning of this intrusion into the private affairs of Houston churches; this is not about subpoenas, this is not about sermons, it is not even about biblical teaching on sexual immorality,” he said. “It is about political intimidation and the bullying by Mayor Parker that continues.”
“The citizens of Houston have a right to vote, and Mayor Parker has denied them that right,” Perkins added. “America must see the totalitarianism that accompanies the redefinition of marriage and human sexuality, which results in citizens being denied their most fundamental rights.”
“This Sunday night, thousands of Christians from across the nation will join ‘I Stand Sunday’ to support the pastors and Christians in Houston, Texas and their fundamental rights of religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right to petition their government.”
Among the scheduled speakers are former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson and his son Alan Robertson, and the five pastors who were subpoenaed: Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church; Khanh Huynh of the Vietnamese Baptist Church; Hernan Castano of Iglesia Rios de Aceite; Magda Hermida of Magda Hermida Ministries; and Houston Pastors Council executive director Dave Welch.
Sunday’s event will be live streamed on the “I Stand Sunday” website at 6 p.m. Central Time (7 p.m. Eastern Time.)