Judge Rejects Houston Lesbian Mayor’s Demand to Deny Pastors a Jury Trial in Battle Over Controversial Transgender Ordinance

Parker.Annise

A Texas judge has rejected the city of Houston’s demand to deny a jury trial to pastors fighting a controversial transgender ordinance.

The ruling, released late Tuesday by Judge Robert Schaffer in the Harris County District Court in Houston, came in a case in which the city created a firestorm of controversy by issuing subpoenas for copies of pastors’ sermons.

In its latest motion, the city claimed the pastors have no right to a jury trial, contending the decision should be made by a hand-picked “special master.”

The pastors are opposing an ordinance adopted by lesbian Mayor Annise Parker and council members that creates protections for transgenders, allowing them to use city facilities designated for the opposite sex.

Opponents immediately launched a petition drive to overturn the ordinance. When the city secretary confirmed there were enough signatures to require either a reversal of the decision or an election, the mayor and her attorney, David Feldman, stepped in and simply ruled that tens of thousands of signatures were invalid.

A trial is scheduled to begin in a few weeks.

One of the key opponents is pastor Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council. He told WND that the city’s move was a “desperate attempt” to keep any decision about the mayor’s ordinance out of the hands of Houston citizens.

Parker subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors, demanding copies of any communications related to her and “gay” issues, a move that was ridiculed by commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, America’s top-rated radio host, who described the mayor’s actions as “vile.”

“I think what that mayor in Houston has done may be one of the most vile, filthy, blatant violations of the Constitution that I have seen,” Limbaugh said on his national broadcast. “And I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why law authorities are not pursuing this. I cannot understand it.”

A short time later, the city withdrew the subpoenas but then moved to eliminate a jury from the case and call in a “special master.”

Steve Riggle, one of the pastors targeted by the city’s subpoenas, then issued a statement to city council members.

He said that along with “taking away the constitutional voting rights of over 1 million people in Houston, the mayor is now attempting to take away our constitutional right to a jury trial.”

You are implicated in her decision since you officially represent the city of Houston,” he told council members, urging the members to make a public statement regarding their positions.

“As a citizen of Houston for over 30 years and a community leader, I feel our city has suffered enough national embarrassment over this issue when what we have asked for all along is to simply let the people decide,” he said.

WND broke the story about the city’s subpoenas to the “Houston 5″ pastors for copies of their sermons and other communications with their congregations regarding homosexual rights. The pastors later called for an investigation of city hall’s actions in the dispute.

Parker has described the fight over the ordinance as “personal,” according to a report.

The dispute arose early last year when the city adopted a “nondiscrimination” ordinance recognizing transgender rights in the city over the opposition of many groups. Critics then organized and collected some 55,000 signatures to force either a repeal or a vote.

The city secretary stopped counting at about 19,000, affirming that the threshold of some 17,000 signatures had been met. But Feldman stepped in and imposed several requirements, which opponents said were not in the city charter, and threw out most of the signatures. In response, opponents filed suit. The city then issued the subpoenas as part of the discovery process leading up to a trial.

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SOURCE: World Net Daily – Bob Unruh

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