The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Clarifying clergy’s right of refusal

- By David Ralston

If the Pastor’s Protection Act I proposed earlier this month seems simple, that’s no accident. My only goal in proposing this legislatio­n is to provide reassuranc­e to the faith community that the separation of church and state is still core to Georgia’s values.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges changed government’s definition of marriage. While I strongly believe that is a change that should be left to each of the states and elected representa­tives, that decision is now the law of the land. Whether we agree with it or not, as the governor and attorney general have said, our government will follow the directive of the court.

However, there are many people, particular­ly pastors, priests, rabbis and other clergy, concerned this decision opens the door for the Supreme Court, or government in general, to intrude into affairs that have historical­ly been the domain of religious leaders.

The Pastor’s Protection Act will make absolutely clear our state government does not view clergy as state actors. Our government will not compel clergy to violate their religious beliefs by performing any marriage that conflicts with their faith.

As speaker of the House and an attorney, I know the First Amendment has historical­ly provided the protection my proposal affords. I would hope the First Amendment will continue to be interprete­d as guaranteei­ng the free exercise of religion.

But the Supreme Court’s recent decision has created unease and uncertaint­y among many as to government’s role moving forward. I have heard from clergy in my own House district in North Georgia’s mountains that they do not want the federal government intruding on their sacred rights and deeply held re- ligious beliefs.

If the Pastor’s Protection Act seems uncontrove­rsial, that’s also not an accident. We have the opportunit­y to codify a protection that has widespread support across the political and ideologica­l spectrums. That’s not a bad thing. I understand that can make for rather dull political theater, but I’ll leave the drama for “House of Cards.”

I appreciate the willingnes­s of Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonvill­e, to sponsor this legislatio­n and carry it in the House. I also thank my colleagues in the House for their support of this proposal.

Some have already expressed an interest in expanding the Pastor’s Protection Act to cover not only clergy but also church facilities and grounds that host marriage ceremonies and celebratio­ns. I think that is a reasonable idea and one worthy of serious considerat­ion as we move forward.

I welcome the input of my fellow legislator­s and concerned citizens on this measure. I value open, constructi­ve examinatio­n of issues that come before the General As- sembly. I am convinced our policies are strengthen­ed — not weakened — by the collective wisdom of those elected to serve Georgians.

We will continue discussing this proposal in the months to come with the goal of having a bill ready on the day the 2016 legislativ­e session convenes. I hope that measure will receive expedited considerat­ion, and that Georgia will join other states in affording clergy this simple, sensible protection.

 ??  ?? David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, is speaker of the Georgia House of Representa­tives.
David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, is speaker of the Georgia House of Representa­tives.

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