Identical Pastor Protection Acts introduced this legislative session by Soldotna Sen. Peter Micciche (SB120) and Healy Rep. Dave Talerico (HB236) would do the following three things generally covered by the First Amendment but not spelled out in statute:
Affirm the rights of clergy, rabbis and religious congregations to decline participation in same-sex marriages
Ensure that neither clergy nor religious congregations must provide services or accommodation for same-sex marriages
Protect clergy and religious congregations from any criminal or civil liability for refusing to perform or offer services or accommodations for same-sex marriages
A similar bill was signed into law last June in Texas, has passed the House in Florida and is moving toward Governor desks in Georgia, Tennessee and other states.
Why this bill? It specifies religious freedom rights implied, but not spelled out, in current statute. Today’s legal and cultural environment is absolutely different than in times past. Additional protections are justified and should be welcomed. Even Texas Equality, an LGBT advocacy group, supported the Pastor Protection Act in that state.
Is this bill necessary? Definitely. First Amendment Freedoms are under attack. LGBT advocates have been successful in framing their argument as discrimination. Religious freedom and sexual freedom are pitted against each other on many levels in today’s culture. This law levels the playing field to a certain degree.
Examples abound as to why this bill is justified:
Anchorage Assembly members recently forced a sexual orientation, gender identity, non-discrimination ordinance upon residents that prevents faith-based schools, churches and other religious organizations from making their own hiring decisions.
Officials in Idaho threatened to punish a senior citizen couple – both ordained pastors – if they declined to officiate same-sex ceremonies.
A proposed national Equality Act seeks to “authoritatively set the morals of a community.” This makes the state the arbitrator of morality, not a person’s conscience.
The ACLU recently decided to withdraw its support from religious freedom laws to support ‘same-sex’ marriage.
The Cincinnati City Council recently passed an ordinance banning mental health professionals (including pastors who are licensed) from counseling people experiencing unwanted, same-sex attraction. A pastor reports threats of fines of up to $73,000 per year for using Scripture to counsel youth.
In other countries, LGBT pressures reveal a disturbing erosion of freedom of speech, association, and religion.
A gay couple in the UK sued the Church of England to force the church to perform a same-sex wedding less than two weeks after England passed its gay ‘marriage’ bill.
Canadian Dawn Stefanowicz is one of six adult children of gay parents who filed an amicus brief with US Supreme Court prior to the Obergefell decision. She warns of the sharp decline in freedoms since same-sex marriage was federally mandated in Canada in 2005. Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals can prosecute against discriminatory “hate speech”- written or spoken. The government pays all the plaintiff’s legal fees, but does not reimburse the defendant even if found innocent.
SB120 and HB236 are both sensible measures needed now to keep Alaska pluralistic. Allowing everyone to live their lives consistent with their deeply held convictions is something we should all get behind.