One Week Later: Networks Still Ignore Houston Sermon Subpoena Scandal

ABC, CBS, NBC still disinterested in mayor’s attempt to infringe pastors’ rights.

Although 77 percent of the population identifies as Christian according to Gallup, the media often pay very little attention when the government infringes on the rights of Christians.

The broadcast networks didn’t care enough about Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s subpoena of several pastors’ sermons to report on it in the entire week since the story broke. Parker is openly lesbian.

Fox News reported on Oct. 14, that Parker and City Attorney David Feldman had issued subpoenas in September to five Houston pastors demanding they submit and present any sermons which mentioned anything about a newly passed transgender rights bill.

These pastors had spoken out against the bill and worked with organizations that gathered signatures to force a referendum vote with the hope of repealing the mayor’s newly passed “bathroom bill” called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The bill would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also ensured transgendered people had the right to choose whichever gender public bathroom they wanted to enter.

Petitioners claimed Feldman “wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot,” The Houston Chronicle reported. The petitions (not the pastors) filed suit against the city of Houston over it, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

According to the Mayor’s tweets, sermons were “fair game” to be subpoenaed, although she later claimed to be narrowing the scope of the subpoenas as of Oct. 17, NPR said.

In the first two days after the Houston subpoena story broke, the networks said nothing about it. Instead those news shows talked about movie sequels about male strippers and a “hunks with hounds” calendar instead. Since then, nothing has changed. ABC, CBS and NBC new programs continued to ignore outrage over the Houston mayor’s demands. They also ran trivial stories including segments asking “Are Halloween decorations getting too scary?”  and sharing “Celebrity Workout Secrets.”

Only a few left-leaning outlets initially reported the story. The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and TIME all wrote about it, but both of the ‘Posts’ framed the issue in a way that made the pastors look like the bad guys.

Parker and Feldman ordered the subpoenas after HERO passed. It was only after Fox News published the story, generating immense backlash, that the city government started distancing themselves from the order. That outrage came from conservatives and Christian communities, but also from the Texas attorney general and even the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, according to Red State.

Even the Americans United for Separation of Church and State speaking out failed to get the attention of the liberal broadcast networks.

Parker and Feldman practiced a bit of semantics and revised their subpoena: “Sermons” are no longer required to be submitted to the city government for review; No, now just “speeches” or “presentations” related to homosexuality and all its variants must be submitted to city officials.

It is difficult to see how this is supposedly backing off from the mayors infringement of the pastors’ religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

ADF criticized the mayor after the word “sermon” was deleted from the subpoenas saying, "The city of Houston still doesn't get it. It thinks that by changing nothing in its subpoenas other than to remove the word 'sermons' that it has solved the problem. That solves nothing.”

— Kristine Marsh is Staff Writer for MRC Culture at the Media Research Center. Follow Kristine Marsh on Twitter.