15 October 2014 A.D. Houston Pastors: Over-reaction & Routine Discovery in Litigation
McDurmon, Joel. “Is Houston demanding oversight of pastors’ sermons? No.” American Vision. 15 Oct 2014. http://americanvision.org/11407/houston-demanding-oversight-pastors-sermons/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AmericanVision+%28American+Vision%29. Accessed 15 Oct 2014.
Is Houston demanding oversight of pastors’ sermons? No.
Several people have contacted me over the recent Fox News headline, “City of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons.” WND.com was even broader: “Houston demands oversight of sermons.” There is no doubt that the Mayor and City Council are radical and aggressive LGBT activists trying to advance their agenda against all morality and the will of the people in the actual subject matter behind these headlines. But the actual case does not warrant these alarming headlines, and our activists ought to be more responsible.
I write this only to calm some of the unnecessary alarm, and to introduce some reason and understanding into the mix. The headlines read as if the city has made some move to start monitoring all pastors’ sermons, and this simply is not the case. It also gives the impression that this is some out-of-the-blue, general attack tactic by the activists upon the pulpit. It is not. It is not out-of-the-blue, it is not broad and general as far as the implicated pastors goes, and it should not be a surprise at all.
The City is not making a move to monitor sermons. The city is merely responding to a lawsuit against it and using standard powers of discovery in regard to a handful of pastors who are implicated as relevant to the lawsuit. The issue is here: once you file a lawsuit, you open up yourself and potentially your friends and acquaintances to discovery. This is the aspect that has not been reported, but it is an important part of the context.
This is basic court procedure. But the headlines make it sound like a surprise attack by leftists advancing their agenda on unsuspecting Christians.
Even the Alliance Defending Freedom’s (they are representing the plaintiffs who filed suit) write up gives the impression that this is an attack on irrelevant bystanders, saying “the pastors are not even involved.” That’s not necessarily true. The pastors are not a party in the lawsuit, true, but at least some of them are quite possibly “involved,” and that’s a significant point. To the extent they are involved, Texas court rules (like most court rules) give allowance for discovery of evidence in their associations with the parties to the suit and the subject matter of it.
What is “discovery of evidence”? Is this some liberal tactic that has perverted our legal system? No, it is civil legal procedure 101. Granted, I am not a lawyer, but that’s the point: this is basic stuff. Once a case enters litigation, both sides have fairly broad—although protected and defined—allowances to demand papers, communications, etc., related to or potentially related to the subject matter of the case. Why? Because any relevant or related material may produce evidence crucial to the case. It’s a basic legal right that is important to justice in the big picture.
Further, it is not unprecedented at all for people who are not party to the case to be ordered by the court either to testify or produce materials during the discovery phase. That is what a subpoena is. It happens all the time, because even if you’re not actually a party in the suit, you may in fact have interacted with them in such a way and on relevant topics that your interactions are crucial, or at least relevant, to the case.
Let’s consider an example to which Christians can relate. Suppose an openly Christian mayor attended, during office hours, a Day of Prayer event outside the Mayor’s Office Building on a given date. I have no problem with that, of course, but suppose a local atheist group objected and filed a lawsuit. Let’s suppose further that behind the scenes, a Marxist nonprofit group, members of which are friends and colleagues with the atheist group, was possibly helping fund and coordinate the lawsuit for the purposes of destroying the mayor’s reputation and taking over the local city council. Yet the Marxist group is not a party to the suit. Would the mayor, now a defendant under fire, be legally interested in the communications taking place between those groups? Could those correspondences and even group speeches be relevant to the case? Could they exonerate the mayor? Maybe, maybe not. What if, possibly, those communications contain the only evidence that could exonerate the accused? Is it reasonable that those communications could at least lead to the discovery of relevant evidence important to the mayor’s defense? Depending on the nature of the claims filed, absolutely.