On Monday, a group of Houston-area pastors held a press conference announcing their intention to file suit against the City of Houston and Mayor Annise Parker, citing a violation of their religious freedoms and civil rights. The alleged violation in the suit refers to Parker’s brazen move to subpoena pastoral communications related to her controversial claim to fame—the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (ERO).
With this move, Mayor Parker drew national attention and led religious leaders from around the nation to send nearly a thousand bibles to the Mayor’s office, according to her spokeswoman.
In a statement, Reverend Dave Welch said, “The Mayor of Houston violated the law, attempted to use raw intimidation and trampled on the rights of one million Houston citizens.” The group of pastors is suing for damages because of the citizen-led petition the city wrongfully rejected at Parker’s behest.
This is a latest in a series of embarrassing blows to Parker’s power grab.
Less than a month ago, the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion stating that the city council failed their ministerial duties by not acting on the petition referendum as required in the city’s charter. The opinion requires the City of Houston to either repeal the ordinance or place it for a public vote. Following that, activist David Wilson filed a new petition requiring a gender identity referendum to be on the ballot this November. Though the city attempted to ignore the petition, a Houston court ruled it must be counted following a suit from Wilson.
The divisiveness has even led to changes in Houston policy. As we reported last week, Parker made an “administrative” decision to unilaterally change the petition process. The change allows for her, and any future mayor, to quash petitions they disagree with before the City Secretary can even count them.
Andy Taylor, the attorney representing the group of pastors, said the lawsuit against Parker is to “restore religious liberty.” The group went on to say, “the lawsuit is not about money, but about accountability…Mayor Parker put her social agenda ahead of the constitution.”
The Houston ERO will be put up for a vote this week during Houston’s next City Council meeting and there is expected to be extensive public comment on the ordinance. The agenda places the ERO as two items. The first agenda item is a vote to repeal ERO or keep it in place. The second agenda item, dependent on the outcome of the first, is whether or not to place it on November’s ballot in accordance with the citizen-petition. Most who have been following this issue expect council to vote in favor of placing the decision before voters.
In Parker’s final months, she will be forced to lead a hard public relations campaign convincing voters to uphold the ERO. So far Parker has pulled out all stops when it comes protecting her signature ordinance. She’s even been willing to set aside her tireless campaign against the citizen-imposed revenue limit so that all of her political capital, focus, and funding can be dedicated to the ERO battle.
Many of the mayoral candidates expected the Houston ERO debate to be settled by now. But increased discussion — due in large part to the petition drive by citizens — add yet another layer to the race for Houston’s top job. With the continuing battle both in and out of the courts, don’t expect the ERO debate to be settled anytime soon.