The Pastor Protection Act (HB 597)
DEFENDING FREEDOM AND MUTUAL RESPECT
The Pastor Protection Act, House Bill No. 597, brought by State Representative Mike Johnson in the 2016 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, is a measure designed simply to ensure that a religious leader cannot be forced by the government to conduct a wedding ceremony that violates his or her sincerely held religious belief.
The legislation, modeled after similar laws recently passed with broad bipartisan support in neighboring Texas, Florida, and other states, offers a very basic level of protection for the fundamental right of conscience that all citizens should agree is essential. The bill is also currently making its way through the legislatures of Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
Who will be covered by the law when passed?
The bill, which can be accessed by clicking here, specifies that pastors, clergy, churches, and religious organizations cannot be forced by state or local officials to solemnize, form, or celebrate a marriage that violates their religious beliefs. The employees, facilities and services of religious organizations and churches will also be protected.
What legal protections will be provided?
The new law will ensure that no civil or criminal action can be used by the government to penalize or withhold benefits or privileges, including tax exemptions, in response to these religious-based marriage decisions by the protected persons.
Could this law adversely affect anyone?
HB 597 is a harmless piece of legislation that is expected to receive strong bipartisan support, as it has in other states, because of its simplicity and limited scope. Most Americans recognize that the right of conscience is the most fundamental freedom that a person has, and none of us want a government that imposes penalties for a person's religious opinions.
Since there are thousands of clergy who will happily conduct a same-sex wedding ceremony, if another pastor has an objection to doing so based upon his lifelong understanding of the Bible or other religious text or tradition, it would be wrong for the state to force him to violate his conscience.
In Florida and other states, gay rights groups withdrew their opposition to the legislation once they understood its true purpose and limited application.
Why is this legislation necessary today?
Last summer at the U.S. Supreme Court, the Solicitor General of the United States famously conceded in his oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges that the tax exempt status of religious institutions objecting to same-sex marriage "is going to be an issue." Already, anti-religious freedom advocates have begun calling for the elimination of tax exemptions and other legal actions against conservative churches and clergy. From New York and New Jersey, to Idaho, to Texas, clergy and religious organizations have been prosecuted, fined and punished simply for quietly and respectfully abiding by their sincerely held beliefs about marriage.