Pastors were ordered to hand over sermons that mentioned homosexuality to lawyers acting for the lesbian mayor of Houston, Texas.
The demand for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons” on issues including homosexuality and transsexualism came in the middle of a row over a local gay rights law.
Following a religious liberty backlash Houston mayor Annise Parker conceded that the order was “overly broad”, but is still demanding some sermons from pastors in the city.
On Twitter she said: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game”.
One of the pastors affected, Revd David Welch, said the city’s actions were a “complete abuse of authority”. He likened Parker to a bully, but said the pastors would not be intimidated.
Another pastor described the demand as an attempt to stop church ministers speaking about the cultural issues of the day.
Alliance Defending Freedom, which is supporting the pastors, commented: “City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge”.
The row stems from Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) – a law which aims to ‘prohibit discrimination’.
The ordinance would allow transsexuals to make an official complaint if they are not allowed to use toilets of their choice.
Critics raised concerns about HERO and organised a 50,000-strong petition against it.
The petition was certified, but was subsequently thrown out over claims that not enough signatures were valid.
The rejection of the petition prompted a lawsuit from those opposed to HERO, which led to the city’s lawyers calling for sermons from five pastors in the area.
The lawyers called for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession”.
Although the law only applies in Houston, the events have drawn criticism from further afield. Dr Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the actions were an “immoral power grab”.
And Revd Dr C Welton Gaddy, who leads the Interfaith Alliance, also criticised the move.
He said he “will work as hard to defend the freedom of speech from the pulpit for those with whom I disagree, as I will to defend the rights of the LGBT community”.