TIME politics

Russell Brand Explains How You Start a Revolution

"This is a revolution to make life more exciting."

Russell Brand’s new book, Revolution, begins in a bathroom stall before his now infamous interview with English journalist Jeremy Paxman. In the last moments of silence before the sit-down, he throws up a few prayers (not to mention a couple of Eminem lyrics) and plans for the best.

In the next hour, that interview (or more appropriately worded, that clash) with Paxman — wherein Brand expounded on his views about errant voting paradigms, the stifling power of oligarchies, and the exploitation of the underclass — would throw him into a political sphere no one was really expecting.

A year later, Brand is calling for a revolution.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 23

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A “13th year” of public education combines the supportive environment of high school with the first year of community college — and more students are staying enrolled.

By Rebecca Schuman in Slate

2. Imagine drones as solar-powered and mobile cell towers delivering connectivity to underserved areas.

By Adele Peters in Co.Exist

3. Large employers offering employees at-home solar power at a deep discount could help scale and create demand for this critical renewable resource.

By Diane Cardwell in the New York Times

4. If “democracy” is intended to work for everyone, not just the political class in America, it’s clearly failing.

By Clive Crook in Bloomberg View

5. With each success, new community partnerships exercise greater strength, building civic confidence to solve persistent regional problems.

By Monique Miles in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

It Shouldn’t Take Another Tragedy To Reform the Secret Service

US-POLITICS-SECURITY-WHITE HOUSE
A member of Secret Service walks on the North Lawn of the White Houes on October 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama has appointed former Presidential Protective Division (PPD) director Joe Clancy as interim head of the Secret Service a day after Julia Pierson stepped down from the post. MANDEL NGAN—AFP/Getty Images

Ronald Kessler is the author of The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.

The latest incident underscores how important it is to overhaul the Secret Service and its management culture that fosters cutting corners

At least a dozen times a year, intruders try to jump the White House fence. Many of them succeed. Until Omar Gonzalez penetrated the White House itself, the Secret Service had stopped the intruders before they got inside, as the Secret Service admirably did on Wednesday evening when a Uniformed Division dog took down a fence jumper.

But this recent incident spotlights how foolish it is to keep the White House fence where it is. Many will argue that moving the perimeter to Lafayette Park and closing off access to the public along Pennsylvania Avenue somehow shuts down access to the president. But no one has access to the president without an appointment and being cleared by the Secret Service. The public sees the president almost every day on television. The idea that our rights will somehow be impinged upon by making the White House safer is a myth.

However, the latest incident underscores how important it is to overhaul the Secret Service and its management culture that fosters cutting corners. A report issued this week by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General brings that into vivid focus. The report describes how Secret Service management as part of Operation Moonlight diverted agents on the so-called Prowler team from protecting President Obama at the White House to instead protecting Lisa Chopey, the assistant to then Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, at her home in southern Maryland.

As first reported in my book The First Family Detail, the agents who were diverted to protect Chopey also retrieved confidential law enforcement records on Chopey’s neighbor who had allegedly harassed her. But neither the Secret Service nor the FBI has the authority to protect its own employees. Only when a federal law enforcement officer is threatened or retaliated against as a result of an investigation does such action become a federal offense. As a support employee, Chopey is not a law enforcement officer and was not engaged in an investigation. Thus, retrieving 13 pages of records on the neighbor violated federal criminal laws because the agents had no legitimate law enforcement authority to conduct an investigation of this nature (a point the DHS report failed to note).

Also left unsaid in the DHS report was that one of the purposes of the Prowler team is to look for possible snipers as Marine One lifts off with the president from the White House grounds. On July 1, 2011, Obama and his family left in the helicopter in the late afternoon to go to Camp David, but the Prowler team was nowhere to be found. Instead, the team had been diverted to protect Chopey in southern Maryland.

As if that is not shocking enough, the DHS report quotes Secret Service management and former director Sullivan as defending the decision to divert agents from protecting the president. They claimed the diversion did not impinge on the president’s safety. That, along with the comment by former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson that Secret Service uniformed officers exercised “tremendous restraint” in not taking out Gonzalez even though he penetrated the White House, pinpoints both the arrogance and the negligence of the Secret Service today.

The Secret Service agents involved in Operation Moonlight were fully aware that they were breaking the law, but they felt that their jobs were on the line, a Secret Service agent who asked not to be quoted by name for fear of reprisals told me for the book. The agents “obtained all this information illegally and kept it and were told not to talk about it outside the squad,” the agent says. “They kept records at the duty desk and made agents on every shift initial that they had gone all the way out to southern Maryland to check on the woman’s welfare on the taxpayer dollar.”

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has appointed a four-person panel to recommend security improvements at the White House and to suggest a new director. One development the panel should explore are so-called non-lethal weapons such as ear-splitting sound and high-energy beams that are used to protect our nuclear facilities. And the panel should recommend an outside director such as a former FBI official to change the management culture that encourages cover-ups and brazenly defends the indefensible.

This time, the Secret Service succeeded in apprehending a fence jumper. The next time, it may not. It took the assassination of President Kennedy to substantially upgrade the Secret Service the last time. It should not take another tragedy to reform the Secret Service now.

Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Which Republican Party?

Even if it captures the Congress, rivalries could hamper the GOP in power

The genesis of the modern republican Party may be found in a phone call placed by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in the closing days of a deadlocked 1960 presidential campaign between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. With time running out, Goldwater advised GOP national chairman Thruston Morton, Nixon should skip the urban East and concentrate instead on swing states Texas and Illinois. His own motives were far from disinterested. “I’d like to win this goddamned election without New York,” Goldwater told Morton. “Then we could tell New York to kiss our ass, and we could really start a conservative party.”

Four years later, Goldwater got the part of his wish that mattered most. Meeting in San Francisco’s Cow Palace–the same hall where, just eight years earlier, Republicans had renominated Dwight Eisenhower by acclamation–GOP delegates rejected Ike’s Modern Republicanism (“a dime-store New Deal,” sniffed Goldwater) for a sagebrush libertarian who would block federal aid to education, repeal the graduated income tax and make Social Security voluntary.

The stage was thus set for the most divisive GOP convention since 1912, which opened fissures replicated half a century later, as a fading Eastern establishment battled Sun Belt conservatives for the soul of the party. On its second night, a post-midnight donnybrook pitted Goldwater loyalists against their nemesis, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller, a modernist in politics as in art, cited the Ku Klux Klan, the American Communist Party and the right-wing John Birch Society as examples of political extremism. As millions of television viewers looked on, he struggled to make himself heard above the booing and catcalls. “You lousy lover,” one woman shouted at Rockefeller, whose recent divorce and remarriage had come to symbolize for traditionalists a popular culture in which judges made war on religion and governors emulated Hollywood adulterers in flouting the marriage code.

What occurred in San Francisco was the excommunication of moderate and liberal elements presaging today’s GOP–more unswervingly conservative than even Goldwater envisioned. External events played their part in the transformation. As the 1950s Cold War consensus began to fray, racial divisions accelerated the breakup of the old New Deal coalition. The party of Lincoln morphed into the party of Strom Thurmond. Rockefeller-style pragmatism generated diminished support among Republicans for whom government had become an object of suspicion.

From Birchers to birthers, it’s not hard to find parallels between fantasists who imagined Eisenhower “a dedicated and conscious agent of the communist conspiracy” and their latter-day heirs disputing Barack Obama’s origins and loyalty. Obama is hardly the first American President to experience such abuse. In the 19th century, opposition to Andrew Jackson and his policies gave rise to the Whig Party. Depression-era Americans christened shantytowns of tin and cardboard Hoovervilles in mock tribute to their embattled President. Bill Clinton was accused of crimes far worse than perjury, while George W. Bush came in for sustained ridicule, and worse, from the left.

Obama, however, occupies a unique historical position. No mere presidential polarizer, nearly six years into his tenure he defines the opposition party more than his own. Neocons and Pat Buchanan isolationists; Appalachian miners and emotionally bruised billionaires; Mother Angelica Catholics and Ayn Rand objectivists–disdain for the President is seemingly all that unites a coalition as fractious as the one Ronald Reagan successfully bonded through his optimism and conviction politics. How will the GOP cope with life after Obama? We don’t have to wait until January 2017 to find out.

From the outset, the story line of this year’s election has been predictable, unlike many of the races. Would Republicans recapture the Senate after two attempts foiled by the base’s preference for ideological purity over electability? And what would a wholly GOP Congress do to hamper or harass the Obama White House in the continuing effort to tarnish his legitimacy or downsize his place in the history books? (Whether this campaign advances Republican chances to regain the Oval Office in 2016 is another matter altogether.) Massive electoral losses at the same juncture of their presidencies hardly reduced the legacies of Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower or Reagan.

The Republican fixation on Obama is just the latest example of a party out of power settling for tactical advantage over the hard work of intellectual renewal. Assume for the moment that at least 51 Republican Senators take the oath of office in January 2015. Will a GOP Senate prefer the ideological red meat served up by Ted Cruz? The war-weary, civil-libertarian message crafted by Rand Paul? Will it follow Mario Rubio through the shifting sands of immigration reform? Will it play to the base, content to remain a congressional party, secure behind its gerrymandered redoubts?

Other Republicans, less incrementalist in their approach, nurture visions of political realignment as sweeping as the Goldwater takeover of 1964. Until last Aug. 5, Justin Amash was the Congressman from Facebook, an obscure Michigan lawmaker and Tea Party favorite noted for his shrewd use of social media to promote a Ron Paul–ish agenda of unquestioning faith in markets, support for a flat tax and opposition to environmental (and virtually all other) regulation. Yet Amash disdains the national-security state no less than the welfare state. Indeed, he may be the National Security Agency’s worst nightmare. Earlier this year he exploited bipartisan anger over NSA snooping to produce a near majority for legislation to rein in the agency from collecting phone and Internet data.

No small feat for a two-term Congressman, the son of Palestinian immigrants, who had his philosophical epiphany reading Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. Then came Aug. 5, and the kind of instant fame–or notoriety–that a lifetime of constituent service fails to produce. Amash handily defeated an Establishment-backed candidate in that day’s Republican primary, but it was his stunningly graceless victory speech that immediately went viral. To his elders it established Amash as the least civil of civil libertarians; to his fellow millennials, on the other hand, such trash talk is confirmation of his authenticity.

Amash’s refusal to honor election-night protocol was inevitably contrasted with the legendary good humor of his most illustrious predecessor from Grand Rapids, Gerald Ford. Yet Ford’s own entry into politics was as an insurgent, taking on an isolationist Republican Congressman who opposed the Marshall Plan and voted the Chicago Tribune line. Later, reeling from Goldwater’s crushing defeat at the hands of Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society, Ford wouldn’t hesitate to challenge his party’s minority leader or demand a more creative response to the question posed with every succeeding generation: What does it mean to be a Republican?

All politics is not local but generational. It was true when 22-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, fresh out of Harvard, ran for the New York State assembly to the horror of his fellow patricians; when 32-year-old Nelson Rockefeller, scion of the nation’s most prominent Republican family, accepted an appointment from FDR to be his Latin American coordinator; when a charismatic young Phoenix businessman named Barry Goldwater, fed up with local corruption, declared his candidacy for the city council; and when Jerry Ford came home from World War II convinced that the U.S. could no longer treat the Atlantic and Pacific as divinely provided moats. None of these agents of change was their grandfather’s Republican.

Is today’s GOP poised for its own break with the past? It’s happened before.

The author of six books of American history, Smith has directed the Lincoln, Hoover, Eisenhower, Ford and Reagan presidential libraries

TIME

Meet America’s Most Successful Political Families

It's that time of year again: Bushes and Clintons galore are on the campaign trail supporting candidates who are up for election. Here's a look at America's most successful political dynasties

TIME Japan

The Resignation of Two Ministers Spells Trouble for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japan minister resigns
Japanese Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi resigned on Oct. 20 amid allegations of misusing election funds Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

More ministers could fall as Japan faces political instability at the worst time

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed five women to his Cabinet last month in a major shakeup designed to show support for female empowerment and help smooth the way for an unpopular political agenda. But all that unraveled Monday with the abrupt resignation of two of those appointees—Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima—for campaign spending violations.

The controversies could not have come at a worse time for Abe. His economic policies are faltering and his Cabinet approval ratings had dropped below 50 percent even before the spending scandal broke last week. Abe faces tough decisions within the next few months on policy issues ranging from restarting nuclear reactors to imposing a second round of tax hikes. He’s also struggling to repair relations with China and South Korea over historical issues and territorial disputes, even as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing next month looms.

“Abe no longer seems the invincible Superman that some had imagined, and that weakens him both domestically and in Japan’s diplomatic dealings,” says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan. “On all of his signature policies — ranging from nuclear reactor re-starts to arms exports, collective self defense and state secrecy legislation—a majority of the public is opposed.”

Trade Minister Obuchi and Justice Minister Matsushima submitted their resignations Monday. They were the first Cabinet members to step down since Abe took office in December 2012—a remarkable period of stability in Japanese politics, where ministers not infrequently are called upon to fall on their sword. It was also a reminder of Abe’s scandal-plagued and inefficient first term in 2006-7, which ended after barely a year. A pension records scandal and the suicide of his agriculture minister during an expense-spending probe, along with poor health for the Prime Minister himself, helped doom Abe’s first go-around.

Obuchi, 40, was accused of funneling campaign money to her sister and brother-in-law and to improperly subsidizing entertainment junkets for supporters. Matsushima stepped down for improperly distributing more than $100,000 worth of paper fans to constituents. Obuchi’s resignation in particular could be a major loss for Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. A telegenic mother of two, Obuchi had been expected to help Abe with the controversial restart of Japan’s nuclear power plants—a wide majority of the public remains opposed to atomic energy—shut down since the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Obuchi’s portfolio includes authority over the nation’s nuclear power plants and her softer image—a young mother, after all—was expected to soothe public anxiety over plans to restart the reactors. Obuchi is the daughter of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who ran Japan from July 1998 to April 2000, and had even been touted as a possible successor to Abe somewhere down the road. But the close scrutiny that comes with a Cabinet appointment exposed her as a political lightweight and a product of the LDP machine, says Michael Cucek, a researcher and author of a respected political blog in Tokyo. “She represents someone who vaulted into prominence by the death of a sitting prime minister, taking over the family business without ever knowing much about how the whole machine works,” he said.

And that may not be the end of it. The remaining three female appointees have drawn heavy criticism, or worse, for alleged connections to neo-Nazi or right-wing fringe organizations, or for visiting the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine. A 2011 photo of Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi posing with the leader of the National Socialist Japanese Workers Party was discovered on the group’s website shortly after Takaichi’s appointment last month. Postings on Yamada’s blog seem to profess admiration for Adolf Hitler, and videos posted on the website show Yamada and group members wearing stylized swastikas. Takaichi said she was unaware of Yamada’s affiliation when the photo was taken and that it had been posted to the group’s website without her knowledge. She said she asked for the photo to be removed as soon as she learned of it, and that the group complied.

Similarly, a 2009 photo of National Public Safety Commission chief Eriko Yamatani posing with the members of the far- as Zaitokukai group, which has mounted virulent street demonstrations and hate speeches against ethnic Koreans and other foreigners living in Japan. Yamatani also said she was unaware that her photo had been taken with members of the group or that it had been posted online. She said it was taken down at her request after she learned of it.

On Saturday, all the three of the remaining female Cabinet appointees made formal visits to Yasukuni, where 14 convicted “Class A” war criminals—leaders of wartime Japan—are enshrined. That drew a rebuke from China, which remains deeply skeptical of Abe’s revisionist views of history. That visit will complicate Abe’s efforts to repair relations with Japan’s neighbors—and maybe its citizens, says Kingston. “I think there is a great wave of schadenfreude sweeping across East Asia as Abe’s gathering woes weaken his political standing. The Japanese public, too, are happy to see the Abe juggernaut sputtering as Abenomics fizzles and his culture war to redefine national identity backfires.”

Read next: Japan Court Orders Google to Remove Search Results

TIME politics

Walt Disney, Ronald Reagan and the Fear of Hollywood Communism

HUAC quote
Director Sam Wood, quoted in the Oct. 27, 1947, issue of TIME TUNE

Oct. 20, 1947: The House Un-American Activities Committee opens hearings into communist infiltration of the motion picture industry

Concern over the corrupting influence of the media is nothing new.

On this day — Oct. 20 — in 1947, members of the House Un-American Activities Committee began an investigation into alleged communist influences in the film industry as the post-World War II “Red Scare” ramped up towards its peak. (Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, the namesake of an era marked by anti-communist paranoia, was not involved with the Congressional committee, although their aims overlapped.) Fearing a conspiracy that would inject propaganda into productions and recruit movie-going Americans to communist causes, the committee subpoenaed more than 40 actors, directors, writers and studio executives, whom they grilled about their political affiliations and asked to name names of other Hollywood communists.

And while 80 celebrities — including Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Gene Kelly and John Huston — signed a petition denouncing the committee as un-American itself for probing the politics of individual citizens, the anti-communist momentum of the day carried the hearings forward.

Some of those subpoenaed cooperated fully with the committee, confirming its fears that subversives were at work in Hollywood. These “friendly witnesses” included Ronald Reagan, who testified that a “small clique” of communists “have attempted to be a disruptive influence” within the Screen Actors Guild, and Walt Disney, who declared that they had been behind a strike at his studio. Disney felt particularly vulnerable to the Red Menace, according to his testimony, in which he alleged that one communist agitator, the union organizer Herbert Sorrell, swore “he would make a dust bowl out of my plant if he chose to.” Disney knew Sorrell was a communist, he said, because of “having seen his name appearing on a number of Commie front things,” which then went on to smear Disney’s name.

On the other hand, ten screenwriters and directors refused to testify, arguing that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the freedom to belong to any political organization they chose. Congress didn’t see it that way, and a month later the men were cited for contempt and ultimately sentenced to a year in prison each.

In prison, one of the Hollywood Ten, as they came to be known, discovered warmer feelings for the committee. Director Edward Dmytryk testified a second time in 1951, outdoing even Reagan and Disney in his friendliness. As TIME reported in its coverage of the hearing:

This time Dmytryk not only admitted membership in the party in 1944-45; he also gave the committee a longer list of party members (26) than any other witness to date and the best summary yet of the Communists’ ‘Operation Hollywood.’

Those names joined a blacklist that destroyed hundreds of film careers. Dmytryk, however, speaking “with the surprised air of a man discovering sin for the first time,” said he believed the names should be known, and communism routed.

“This is treason and it means the party is committing treason,” he testified. “For this reason, I am willing to talk today.”

Read TIME’s 1951 coverage of Dmytryk’s change of heart, here in the archives: Operation Hollywood

TIME 2014 Election

Voters Say Events in U.S. ‘Out of Control’

Poll finds anxiety on a range of issues, from Ebola to health care costs

Call it the Freakout Election.

Two-thirds of likely voters in the most competitive states and congressional districts in the midterm election fight think events in the U.S. are “out of control,” according to a new poll. The survey by Politico found widespread anxiety about the Ebola outbreak, terrorism, health care costs and President Barack Obama’s leadership. Only 36% think the U.S. is “in a good position to meet its economic and national security” challenges.

The poll underscores how both Obama’s low approval ratings and a general sense of disarray are weighing down Democrats just weeks before voters go to the polls to decide which party will control the Senate. A majority of voters, 54%, either strongly disapprove or somewhat disapprove of Obama’s job performance.

Read more at Politico

TIME White House

Ebola Czar Ron Klain Is a ‘Top-Flight Lawyer and Savvy Politician’

Lawyer and politcal operative Ron Klain on May 13, 2008 in New York City.
Lawyer and politcal operative Ron Klain on May 13, 2008 in New York City. Andrew H. Walker—Getty Images

The new Ebola czar is no stranger to making news

The White House confirmed Friday that President Obama has picked Ron Klain as the Administration’s “Ebola czar.” In his new role, Klain will be the point person for coordinating the nation’s response to the virus. The appointment marks a return to public life for Klain, who formerly worked under vice presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, but who has since spent several years in the private sector.

Though it’s a departure from his current job, the oversight role will no doubt draw on the skills that Klain has spent decades developing. In fact, back in 1994 TIME named Klain — then Chief of Staff to Janet Reno — to its list of 50 people who would make up the next generation of leadership. Here’s what we said about him back then:

In a city where name recognition is synonymous with success, Ron Klain has made a virtue of being unknown. As Attorney General Janet Reno’s chief of staff, he is all but invisible to the public but recognized in Democratic circles as the man to have on your side in a political or legal fight. A rare mix of top-flight lawyer and savvy politician, Klain shepherded the nominations of Reno and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg through the Senate and steered the omnibus crime bill through the turbulent legislative process. An honors graduate of Georgetown and Harvard Law, he clerked for Justice Byron White. Spurning six-figure law-firm offers, he signed on as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, a job Justice Stephen Breyer once held on his road to the High Court. Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, an admiring former teacher, calls Klain ”one of the most politically talented and intellectually powerful students I’ve ever had” — one destined to lose his anonymity soon.

Over the decades that followed, that paragraph would not be the only time Klain would show up in the pages of the magazine. His name came up in 2000 when Al Gore was questioned about a 1996 campaign-finance scandal, and throughout that year as Bush v. Gore progressed; John Kerry praised his help on the campaign trail in 2004; he was named as a possible replacement for Rahm Emanuel in 2010; he even joked around with Joel Stein in 2012 after the Supreme Court cited a TIME article about Internet privacy.

Today, as the U.S. and the world continue to fight the Ebola outbreak, Klain’s name in the news is sure to be an even more regular event.

Read the introduction to the “50 for the Future” list that included such luminaries as Ron Klain, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, here in the archives: The Real Points of Light

TIME LGBT

Houston’s Pastors Outraged After City Subpoenas Sermons Over Transgender Bill

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz is surrounded by preachers as he addresses a crowd at a Houston church Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 about a legal dispute involving several pastors fighting subpoenas from Houston city attorneys. Pat Sullivan—AP

City officials have subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors who oppose the Houston's new equal rights ordinance

Houston, with its left-leaning, openly gay mayor governing an influential conservative and evangelical base, is a city politically divided. That division has been made clear in recent days after the city subpoenaed sermons of several pastors who oppose a recently passed equal rights ordinance for gay and transgender residents. The subpoenas are an attempt by city officials to determine how the preachers instructed their congregants in their push to get the law repealed.

The city’s subpoenas targeted sermons and speeches by five Houston pastors with ties to religious leaders attempting to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which bars businesses from discriminating against gay and transgender residents. The law, passed into law by Mayor Annise Parker in May, is often derided as a “bathroom bill,” because it allows transgender individuals to choose whether to use a male or female restroom.

This summer, a group of local pastors and religious leaders began gathering signatures in an attempt to get a referendum to repeal the law on this November’s ballot. But City Attorney David Feldman blocked that attempt by throwing out thousands of signatures he said didn’t meet the criteria to qualify, incensing groups opposed to the rule.

Local religious leaders claim Feldman illegally disqualified the referendum and have filed a suit against the city. Mayor Parker, meanwhile, has pledged not to enforce the ordinance until there’s a court decision. But the move by the city to subpoena Houston’s pastors, who have been vocal on the issue and have urged their congregants to support a repeal referendum, has drawn national attention. Republican Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement that the subpoenas were “shocking and shameful,” and Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has called for the city to drop them as well.

“The chilling effect of government scrutiny of our pastors is unconstitutional, and unconscionable,” Perkins said in a statement. “Mayor Parker’s use of her bully pulpit to silence pulpit freedom must be stopped in its tracks.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also issued a letter saying the city impinged on the pastors’ First Amendment rights and called for the subpoenas’ immediate reversal. “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Abbott wrote to Feldman. “The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in their knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”

University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer says the city reached too far in issuing the subpoenas. One subpoena sent to Pastor Steve Riggle, for example, asks for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.” However, Linzer says it wouldn’t impinge on the pastors’ First Amendment rights if the city only asked only for sermons or speeches related to the signature drive. “Let’s assume they gave instructions to cheat,” Linzer says. “That would be relevant speech and I don’t see how they would have any First Amendment protection for that.”

Among those fighting the city’s move is the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a religious freedom advocacy non-profit whose lawyers have filed a motion trying to quash the subpoenas. “I haven’t seen any indication that the city is backing down,” says Erik Stanley, the group’s senior legal counsel. “But we’re hopeful that they will. The only thing we can figure is they were subpoenaed because they spoke out against the ordinance. And they urged people to sign the petition. They exercised their constitutional rights to speak out.”

Still, Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman appeared to backtrack on the subpoenas Wednesday, saying they had only recently learned of them and that outside lawyers handled the lawsuit. They argued the city is merely looking for communications from those pastors regarding the petition drive, but that the subpoenas’ language was inappropriate.

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” Parker said in a news conference Wednesday. “But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation.” Feldman, the city attorney, called the uproar over the wording “ridiculous,” but also has argued that if a pastor is speaking about political issues from the pulpit, it’s not protected. The mayor’s office declined to comment further for this story.

On Friday, The Houston Chronicle reported that the city would remove the term “sermon” from the subpoenas. Mayor Parker, however, said that relevant sermons regarding the petition drive could still be gathered.

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