New laws give Houston officials rights to examine religious sermons for discrimination against LGBT people

Those opposed to the move have formed a coalition and filed a suit against the city and its mayor, arguing that the measures are 'overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing and vexatious'

Officials in Houston, Texas are embroiled in a bitter legal battle with religious pastors after new laws were proposed giving officials the right to demand sermons to examine whether they discriminate against homosexual and transgender people.

The move is part of a raft of new proposals attempting to tackle discrimination towards the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities in America’s fourth largest city. The measures were part approved in June by Annise Parker, the city’s mayor but has met stiff opposition in religious circles. Now those opposed to the new measures have formed a coalition and filed a suit against the city and Ms Parker. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a US law firm representing four pastors, argues that the measures are “overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing and vexatious.”

ADF lawyer Christina Holcomb called the actions “an inquisition designed to stifle any critique”.

“Political and social commentary is not a crime,” she said. “It is protected by the First Amendment.”

ADF attorneys say the city is illegitimately demanding that the pastors, who are not part to the lawsuit, turn over their constitutionally protected sermons and other communications simply so the city can see if the pastors have ever opposed or criticized the city.

“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge. In this case they are embarked on a witch hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it,” said ADF attorney Erik Stanley.

Ms Parker, who has been with her partner Kathy Hubbard since 1990 and has two adopted children, came to office in Texas in 2009. “This election has changed the world for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community,'' she said at the time. Five years on, this latest standoff will determine just how progressive America’s fourth largest city truly has become.

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