‘Pastor protection’ bill passes, more religious bills are on the way

[private]The Georgia House adopted the “Pastor Protection” bill Thursday by a 161-0 vote, a measure that will provide legal protections to ministers who don’t want to perform same-sex marriages. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

House leaders like Speaker David Ralston supported HB 757 as an alternative that they hoped would satisfy the wishes of conservative legislators determined to pass a “religious freedom” bill.

“We can draw lines in the sand, we can lash out at those who oppose us and remain intractable, or we can seek out common ground and move forward together,” Ralston said. “What the bill does is address real concerns from constituents all over the state of Georgia.”

Ralston added: “We can find a way forward. I hope this bill can be the first productive discussion. Let us unite the House, here and now, and keep that spirit with us.”

Several Republican lawmakers, however, made it clear they want to vote on other religious bills that would be more wide-ranging in their effects.

“This bill doesn’t cover Georgians like me, in my opinion,” said Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton). “I believe it is our responsibility to protect all Georgians and I don’t think this bill goes far enough.”

“This bill only starts it,” insisted Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth). “This is an important protection, but friends, we have to do more. If we stop here and don’t go further, we have not done our duty.”

At least eight “religious freedom” bills have been introduced in the General Assembly in response to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld the rights of gays to get married.

Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), the author of HB 757, said he got calls from ministers and their spouses who were convinced that preachers would be thrown in jail if they refused to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies.

“I felt we needed to do something other than words to reassure our faith community,” Tanner said. “The state government has no intention of forcing anyone to violate their faith.”

The issue appeared to drive some legislators to outright anger.

“The religious community is being persecuted . . . the religious community is being attacked,” Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) declared. “It may be the last time the people of God can stand up and say, ‘enough is enough.’ Enough is enough, and we speak today when we vote yes to this legislation.”

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: David Ralston , Kevin Tanner , pastor protection bill , Paul Battles , religious freedom , same-sex marriages