Mayor Parker meets with clergymen about church record subpoenas

A small delegation of clergymen from across the nation spent more than an hour meeting with Houston Mayor Annise Parker to discuss the city government's controversial subpoenas of local church records.

The mayor juggled her schedule Tuesday afternoon to meet with the church leaders after they staged a news conference and prayed outside City Hall, but the meeting apparently didn't change any minds – at least, not yet.

"I don't think the mayor wanted to do the subpoenas," said Alexander Webster, a Russian Orthodox Church leader from Virginia who attended the meeting. "I think she is looking for a way to get out of the subpoenas and find a more positive, reconciling approach."

The clergymen described the meeting as cordial and took pictures with the mayor, but they were unsure about whether she would change her stance on the subpoenas.

"This is not a local Houston issue exclusively, but an affront to every church and pulpit in America," said Rev. Patrick Mahoney, a leader of the Christian Defense Coalition, which is organizing opposition to the subpoenas.

The subpoena controversy is the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Parker's equal rights ordinance, a fight over a broad anti-discrimination measure that evolved into a bitter debate over gay rights. Opponents of the ordinance gathered signatures on petitions to force a referendum on the issue, but the city attorney rejected many of those petitions as invalid.

That's when opponents went to the courthouse, filing a lawsuit that triggered the current debate. Attorneys working for the city wrote a subpoena asking for various records – a standard practice in litigation – but it named a number of church leaders involved in the petition effort. And even city officials concede the request was overly broad, asking for sermons, diaries and other materials from church leaders.

After news of the subpoenas broke, the mayor and city attorney announced they would narrow the request and remove the word "sermons" from the request. But the damage was already done, triggering a firestorm of protests and calls for the city to simply drop its subpoenas.


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