Last evening, Sean Hannity vowed to bail out all of the pastors involved in an ongoing and unprecedented legal dispute in Houston, Texas.
The dispute arose when, under the watch of the city’s first openly-gay mayor, Annise Parker, the Houston City Council passed what they termed an “equal rights ordinance,” Ordinance No. 2014-530, that Hannity claims will allow “men [to] use the ladies’ rooms, and ladies [to] use the men’s rooms.”
Naturally, this outraged many in the community, including several pastors. This led pastors to organize a petition drive to repeal the ordinance. The petition, having received over 50,000 signatures, the city claims, came up short, effectively removing the issue from the ballot. This, in turn, led to the filing of a lawsuit brought by petition supporters to force the mayor to allow citizens to vote on whether or not to repeal the controversial ordinance.
The city of Houston issued broad subpoenas, demanding that pastors, not directly involved in the lawsuit, turn over all records in their possession relating to “the topics of equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity, language relating to restroom access, all communications with Joe La Rue or anyone else at the ‘Alliance Defending Freedom,’” information on budgetary information and “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity….”
Sean Hannity reached out to the Houston’s mayor’s office, who said, in part, “The Mayor agrees with those who are concerned about the city legal department’s subpoenas for pastor’s sermons. Neither the Mayor nor City Attorney David Feldman were aware the subpoenas had been issued until yesterday. Both agree the original documents were overly broad. The city will move to narrow the scope during an upcoming court hearing.”
Grace Church Co-founder Pastor Steve Riggle and Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley joined Hannity on his show to detail their fight for the First Amendment.
Pastor Riggle was one of the pastors subpoenaed by the city. He had the following to say about his receipt of the subpoena:
Well, it wanted my sermons and emails and texts and anything that had been said about, uh, the equal rights ordinance or homosexuality, or including Mayor Parker, if I had ever said anything about her. Communication with the congregation, wanted any of that.
The ordinance has to do with “public accommodations, gender identity and gender expression, which basically mean that, however you express yourself, doesn’t matter biologically what you are, that that’s what you are on that day,” said Pastor Riggle.
According to a poll, conducted at the request of the pastors supporting the petition, 82 percent of Houston residents said they were not for this ordinance, but “they passed it anyway,” said Pastor Riggle.
Hannity, reacting to the ordinance and speaking to Erik Stanley, sarcastically asked:
It would seem that this ordinance comes in direct conflict with a little, uh, Amendment. It’s called the First Amendment – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom for redress of grievances. That’s all in the First Amendment. Am I correct sir?
Erik Stanley, in response to Hannity, had the following to say about the ongoing dispute:
Oh, you’re exactly right Sean. I mean, this is an unprecedented attack on the First Amendment rights of pastors. The city of Houston has subpoenaed these five pastors. They’re asking for seventeen different categories of information, including text messages between their congregation members and the pastor and including the pastor’s sermons on issues like homosexuality, gender identity or the mayor. And these have no relevance to whether there is enough signatures on the ballot to put this issue on the ballot. And in addition, as you noted, it violates the First Amendment rights of these pastors. This is nothing more than political retribution.
“They (the city) want to be the arbiters of what is right and wrong, and now they want to troll through pastor’s sermons to determine if what they’ve said was true or false. They don’t get to make that determination,” said Erik Stanley. “Do we really want government officials to be trolling through the content of pastor’s sermons?”
Hannity then directed his comments back to the pastor stating that “under no condition” should any of the pastors comply with this “unlawful[ly]” ordered subpoena. “Are you willing to go to jail to defend your rights to preach and freedom of religion?” asked Hannity.
“Well, I’m very willing for the mayor and the city attorney to have all of my sermons if they’ll agree to read them. I would give them to them, but I’m not willing to hand them over because the state has demanded that I do that,” answered Pastor Riggle.
Then, Hannity offered the unexpected to Pastor Riggle and the other pastors:
If you need it, I’ll come and bail you guys out. I believe in freedom of religion, and I, regardless of what other pastors, I don’t know if it’s the same denomination, but I’d be glad to bail you guys out. And I may even bring in a cake with a file if you get sent to jail for preaching what you believe as your deeply held religious faith.
“Alright? There’s my promise. I’ll bail you guys out,” said Hannity.