A Movement to Protect Pastors from Discrimination

Two long years after the birth of the Pastor Protection Act in California and in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, there is a movement in Florida and other states to pass legislation that would protect pastors from having to perform any marriages that would violate their conscience and prohibit the use of church property for any such marriages.

 

The History of the Movement

Started in January of 2013 by Mark Leno, a homosexual Senator from California, The Pastor Protection Act was passed in California to prohibit discrimination of clergy and other religious organizations that refuse to conduct same-sex ceremonies.

The idea of this Act was conceived after the New Jersey legalized “civil unions” for same-sex couples. Some of these couples asked to have their ceremonies at the Ocean Grove pavilion, a wooden auditorium established by Methodists after the Civil War on land set aside by a historic state charter as “a place on the shore for the perpetual worship of Jesus Christ.” When they were refused, based on the organization’s religious beliefs, some couples filed discrimination complaints with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, asserting that Ocean Grove’s pavilion – one of its places of worship – was a place of public accommodation subject to the state’s nondiscrimination law. They claimed that a structure owned by a religious group and used for religious services wasn’t a worship facility and urged the state to enshrine this into legal stone. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights eventually declared the pavilion was not a religious facility and that Ocean Grove was guilty of discrimination. To end the legal battle and appease state officials, Ocean Grove stopped hosting weddings of any kind in its seaside pavilion – a policy it continues today.

Another event happened at The Hitching Post, a family-owned business that conducted an average of 1400 marriages per year. Don and Evelyn Knapp refused to conduct a same-sex ceremony and are currently in court fighting for their rights. This incident is what prompted the Pastor Protection Act.

Since the June 26th Supreme Court decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, all 50 states are now required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and many states have recently decided that it is about time pastors get the protection they deserve.

 

Florida’s Pastor Protection Bill

The Christian Family Coalition (CFC) has been circulating a petition seeking supporters of a Pastor Protection Bill in Florida, and on October 7, the bill received approval in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee by a vote of 9-4.

As the Pastor Protection Bill begins its journey into being codified into law, Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition, said “We are encouraged by the tremendous support seen in the hearing. We showed the representatives in the Civil Justice Subcommittee that Floridians believe pastors should be protected from those who want to obligate or threaten them to perform marriages they believe are wrong. With your continued support, we will see this bill become law and let our pastors breath a little easier.”

According Verdugo, “Texas, Oklahoma and California are the major states to pass this Act… It is important for Florida to be up there too.”

 

The Opposition

However, everyone does not share this sentiment for our state’s pastors. The National Organization of Women (NOW) Florida chapter, Equality Florida (A LGBT rights group) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have officially declared their opposition to this Act in Florida.

Both sides have approached the Florida House Civil Justice Subcommittee; however, the ACLU has been the most vocal. On their website they told the Florida Director of Public Policy that this Act was “unnecessary” and that it “diverts scarce legislative resources away from the conversation we should be having about protecting LGBT people from discrimination.”

This opposition has stood fierce, but this news has only furthered the Floridian push for this Act.

 

What Can I Do?

Following the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, the next battle will be for the passage of actual legislation. Proponents of the Pastor Protection Act urge people of faith in Florida to contact their senators and congressmen to show them that Florida wants their pastors to be protected.

Chants have been heard around the state; people have been raising their voices ever louder to bring awareness to the discrimination against pastors. These voices, however, are not loud enough.

Verdugo emphasized that when it gets to Tallahassee for a vote to be passed, “We need every man, woman and child who is willing, to come to Tallahassee and raise our voices high so that they know that this is what the State wants.”

For more information about the Pastor Protection Act and how you can get involved, please visit www.cfcoalition.com and sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/clergy-and-religious-institutions-tax-exempt-protection-act.

 

Geoffrey Still is an intern with Good News, student editor of Calvary Christian Academy’s SOAR.ccaeagles.org and founder of the “Crusader Corner” at Coral Springs Christian Academy.

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