Convinced by clergymen from across the country that she had entered a raging national debate on religious freedom she wanted no part of, Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday agreed to withdraw controversial subpoenas the city issued to five local pastors in connection with a lawsuit over Houston’s equal rights ordinance.

The mayor’s announcement came amid an unabated firestorm over the subpoenas, particularly among Christian conservatives and Republican politicians, who blasted Parker for trying to “silence the church.”

Parker’s decision represented the only viable political option, said University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, a specialist in religious liberty law. Seeking so much material was inflammatory, he said, adding that much of what the city seeks can be obtained by other means.

“There was so little that seemed relevant and legitimate,” he said, “they were better to just completely withdraw them.”

Southern Methodist University political scientist Matthew Wilson said the mayor was bound to take flak locally for disqualifying a petition that sought to force a referendum on the ordinance, triggering the lawsuit. However, the subpoenas engaged a vocal group of national foes.

“The city can stop some of the bleeding,” he said. “But much of the damage is already done.”

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