Equal Rights opponents call for backup in fight against Houston’s City Hall

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HOUSTON, Tx. - Just when you thought it was safe to go outside again, the bickering over Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance is back in action. And this time opponents are bringing backup.

A group of church leaders from around the country known as the Coalition of African-American Pastors has embarked upon the Bayou City to support Houston pastors who say their first amendment rights were violated when the the city issued subpoenas for their sermons.

"I've been in this town thirty-one years," Steve Riggle with Grace Community Church told reporters at the group's press conference Tuesday, "I'll give the mayor every sermon I've ever preached if she'll listen to them. So it's not about that. It's about the state demanding that."

It all stems from the Houston Area Pastor's Council's petition to have the city's Equal Rights Ordinance placed on the November ballot. When the city dismissed more than half of the signatures the pastors had gathered, the pastors sued. Now, the city says it wants to know if the pastors were politicking from their pulpits and has issued subpoenas for their sermons. The pastors are crying foul.

"This is a country that the people decide," William Owens from the Coalition of African-American Pastors said, "Not a king, not a few people but the people decide and we will not stand back and let a few people dictate to America what should happen."

The city has since amended the subpoenas to omit the word 'sermon' and council member C.O. Bradford has asked Mayor Annise Parker to withdraw them altogether. Still the question remains: does a sermon that moves people to action count as prosthelytizing or politicking?

That may be up to a judge to decide.


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