By Billy Hallowell – TheBlaze.com –
The battle over subpoenas issued by the city of Houston for pastors’ speeches and other communications has taken yet another turn, with a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights penning a letter to Mayor Annise Parker, lambasting the information request.
Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, who opened his letter by noting that he was writing on his own accord and not on behalf of the entire commission, warned that the city’s pastoral requests “threaten to have a chilling effect on religious and political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.”
“Although non-parties to a lawsuit can be required to provide information that is reasonably likely to be relevant and admissible, these subpoenas are plainly overbroad,” Kirsanow wrote.
He continued, “A subpoena that requires a pastor to turn over an e-mail to his neighbor about the details of the Equal Rights Ordinance, or a draft book chapter on the Bible and homosexuality that discusses the Equal Rights Ordinance, is clearly overbroad. “
Kirsanow continued by claiming that no government institution should require private citizens to turn over personal communications that relate to important issues of the day, noting that pastors are private citizens with free-speech like anyone else.
The commissioner also noted that the subject matter — mainly homosexuality — is tricky, as the pastors’ views on the issue and the equal rights ordnance at the center of the debate are likely shaped by their religious perspective.
“Given that the recipients of these subpoenas are pastors, it is almost inevitable that their views on homosexuality and gender identity are informed by their faith, if not almost entirely rooted in their faith,” he continued. “Indeed, the views of many people on homosexuality and gender identity are rooted in their ultimate commitments.”
He also charged that the “discovery request impermissibly probes the religious beliefs of private citizens simply because they supported a political effort.”
Kirsanow concluded that the request is an “abuse of government power” and that it appears to punish pastors for sharing political views that are predicated upon their faith.