Churches, religious organizations and individuals may not be required to perform any marriages that would violate their conscience or be compelled to use church property for such ceremonies if they would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs now that Florida’s Pastor Protection Act has passed and been signed into law by Governor Rick Scott on March 10. The law also prohibits certain legal actions, penalties, or governmental sanctions against such individuals or entities.
The move was made in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision of Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriages nationwide. Since the Supreme Court decision in July, many have been worried about whether or not the First Amendment’s “Freedom of Religion” clause would hold.
“This is a huge step forward for us,” said Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition in Florida. “We have been everywhere trying to drum up support. From petitions to big speeches, we wanted to unite the churches and get the word out that our rights were being infringed.”
With the passage of the law, Verdugo said pastors no longer need to fear being penalized. “You can’t have your tax-exempt status pulled … you can’t have grants denied to you. You can’t be treated any differently than you are now based on your views on marriage,” he said.
“It is a disturbing trend for America that the First Amendment protecting the free exercise of religion needs further protection,” said Mick Welton, assistant pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs.
However, ACLU Director of Public Policy, Michelle Richardson, opposed the bill in an email urging the House Civil Justice Subcommittee to vote no. In the email, Richardson asserted, this bill is “unnecessary” and “diverts scarce legislative resources away from the conversation we should be having about protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.”
The Passing of the Bill
This bill entered the Florida House of Representatives on March 2 for voting. The Florida House passed the bill at a vote 82 for and 37 opposed. The Florida Senate got it the next day, and after the day ended, the vote was cast at 23 for and 15 opposed. The final call went to the Governor, Rick Scott (R), to sign or veto the bill. His decision was on March 10, at 2:43 pm, and was delivered to the State Legislature at 6:40. The Pastor Protection Act was a huge victory for the CFC, who had over 150 key speakers speak on their behalf.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Scott Plakon, who said the bill was modeled after a similar Texas law.
The law applies to churches, religious organizations, religious corporations or associations, religious fraternal benefit societies, religious schools or educational institutions, church auxiliaries, individuals employed by a church or religious organization while acting in the scope of that employment, clergy members and ministers.
For more information on the Christian Family Coalition visit them at www.cfcoalition.com. To read this bill in its entirety, visit www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2016/0110/BillText/Filed/PDF
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.