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Florida’s “Pastor Protection Act” Seen as Defense of Clergy or Latest Bias Against LGBT

| January 31, 2016

pastor protection act florida

They’re afraid. (Xynn Tii)

A debate is again building in the state Capitol about same-sex marriage as conservative lawmakers back a proposal known as the “Pastor Protection Act.”


The proposal, which was approved this week by a Senate committee, would prevent clergy members from being forced to perform marriage ceremonies contrary to their beliefs. Religious conservatives are backing the bill in the wake of last year’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.

The proposal’s supporters say it also would help protect the tax-exempt status of religious organizations that don’t want to take part in marriages that violate their beliefs.

“This is just an extra layer of protection under Florida law, to give pastors and other religious practitioners comfort that they can go about what they do without worrying about being persecuted for that or even criminally charged,” said Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican who is sponsoring the House version of the proposal (HB 43).

But Carlos Guillermo Smith of the gay-rights advocacy group Equality Florida called the proposal “an invented problem” aimed at getting religious conservatives to the polls.

“We are not aware of any churches or pastors or members of the clergy who have ever been sued because they made the decision to not solemnize a wedding,” he said. “This is an election year, and the reason this bill is being considered is because of politics.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted 7-3 along party lines to support the Senate version of the proposal (SB 110), filed by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. The issue was slated to go before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday but got postponed after consideration of a controversial gun bill lasted nearly three hours.

Supporters and opponents of the “Pastor Protection Act” said they would return when it comes up next week, and Plakon said the bill’s chances wouldn’t be harmed by the delay.

“There’s plenty of time left in session, and this is the last stop before the House floor,” he said. The Senate version, meanwhile, faces two more committees.

Supporters acknowledge that the First Amendment protects religious leaders from performing marriages to which they object, but Bean said pastors “are in doubt as to their religious freedom.”

The Rev. Chris Walker, pastor of the Cathedral Power International Church in Clermont, was in the Capitol this week and said he fears that future court rulings will prevent him from preaching according to his beliefs. Walker was the author of an online petition about the pastor-protection issue that has drawn more than 24,000 signatures since July.

“I don’t care who you marry, but I want to be able to preach the gospel that way it is written,” he said Thursday. “Now, if they choose to change it, twist it, however you want to do it. … But I am charged to preach the bible in its raw, biblical form.”

Equality Florida’s Guillermo Smith said his group was more concerned with defending against free-speech abuses than perpetuating them.

“We know, based on experience from other legislatures in other states, that religious exemptions have always been ripe for abuse and create loopholes for people to use religion to discriminate against others and impose their beliefs on others — and sometimes to harm people,” he said. “And we oppose that.”

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

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15 Responses for “Florida’s “Pastor Protection Act” Seen as Defense of Clergy or Latest Bias Against LGBT”

  1. real America says:

    Laughing at the 24,000 votes since July. That seems like a really low number of intrest in this Bill. What confuses me is that the pastors are not the ones getting married so why does it matter who they perform a marriage ceremony for? Are they just being discrimitory towards God’s children? That doesn’t seem very holy.

  2. yankee says:

    time to make churches pay taxes……

  3. karma says:

    Yankee.. would that not go against your so called ” Separation of church and state” or would you be OK with religion in the public school system also? You can not have both ways!

  4. Knightwatch says:

    I’m having a great deal of trouble understanding how some pious preachers and self professed evangelicals justify in their minds preaching both Christianity and intolerance like the “Rev.” Chris Walker. It’s folks like him that will eventually help make religion mostly irrelevant in American society.

  5. Ron R. says:

    I’m with yankee – churches and religious organizations should be taxed.

  6. Trumpster says:

    I will ensure that all Church buildings are taxed for services they receive. I will also tax any church with over 1,000 members or whose pastor has a boat, airplane or residence over 2,000 SF.

  7. reality maybe? says:

    Any ordained clergy member takes a vow to uphold the beliefs of that religion. I know of no religion that says a pastor must perform a wedding, rather most religions not only forbid same-sex marriage, but they also give a pastor the freedom to refuse to marry any couple, if that pastor deems the marriage to be somehow a mistake.

    Clergy members are not legally obligated to perform any marriages; their guidance and only binding obligation comes from their faith.

    This law is nothing but propaganda.

  8. Just me says:

    This case TRULY is all about the “separation of church and state”. ~
    The proposal, which was approved this week by a Senate committee, would prevent clergy members from being forced to perform marriage ceremonies contrary to their beliefs. Religious conservatives are backing the bill in the wake
    The First amendments is/was set up to keep the GOVERNMENT out of religion. it was not set up to keep any people of religious convictions out of government. I agree that religious institutions should pay taxes on some of their wealth.

  9. Lin says:

    To those who would tax churches:
    Would you also take over all the charitable works the religious people do in counseling, feeding those in need, providing community for those who are lonely or need spiritual guidance, healing the sick, etc etc?

    That would make churches just another pocket of money for the government to pick.

  10. Mondexian Mama says:

    Bring back the lions!

  11. Lin says:

    Bring back the lions?
    Exactly what does that quip mean?
    Would you say that re any other group? How would that go over?

  12. Fredrick says:

    Why are the libs not screaming separation from Church and State?

    If the church is taxed then all “non profits” would need to be taxed. How about better defining what a “non profit is”.

  13. theevoice says:

    no way, no how should pastors be forced to marry against their beliefs PERIOD. you are gay and want to be married, go to a justice of the peace..NO DISCUSSION needed..

  14. Just me says:

    Hmm….
    Mondexian Mama says:

    February 1, 2016 at 9:01 am

    Bring back the lions!

    So she is for feeding Christians to the lions? Now that’ liberal tolerance for ya IMO.
    Again IMO the left only want their fictional separation of church and state to tell those with differing OPINIONS to shut up and sit down.

  15. THE VOICE OF REASON says:

    Bakeries in both Colorado and Oregon have recently been sued successfully for refusing to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

    If they’ll sue over something as mundane as which bakery makes the cake, what makes anybody think they won’t sue a pastor who stands up for his beliefs as well?

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