Pastors in Texas will no longer have to fear government officials showing up at their church doors. Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 24 Monday, protecting pastors from subpoenas demanding they turn over their messages.
“Texas law now will be your strength and your sword and your shield,” Abbott said, invoking Bible verse as he addressed the 11 a.m. service at Grace Church. “You will be shielded by any effort by any other government official in any other part of the state of Texas from having subpoenas to try to pry into what you’re doing here in your churches.”
The law, which Abbott signed Friday, will go into effect immediately and mandate that a government cannot “compel the production or disclosure of a written copy or audio or video recording of a sermon delivered by a religious leader during religious worship, or compel the religious leader to testify regarding the sermon.”
The legislation became necessary after five Houston pastors were ordered to surrender their sermons in 2014, at the demands of liberal Houston Mayor Annise Parker. I spoke with one of her targets, Pastor Khanh Huynh, earlier this year at a press conference for the introduction of the Free Speech Fairness Act. Parker, Huynh said, demanded his sermons because he and his fellow pastors were opposed to her transgender bathroom ordinance. “We’re not going to back down, because we did nothing wrong,” Huynh said at the time. “We just speak the word of God on moral issues and we fight for the safety of women and girls.”
President Trump has also sought to defend religious leaders’ right to speak their mind on politics and policies in his quest to overturn the Johnson Amendment. The law, introduced by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1954 when he was still a senator, forbids religious leaders from wading into politics in front of their congregations. Trump did sign an executive order on religious freedom earlier this month, but it left most of the Johnson Amendment in place.