COLUMBUS, Ohio — An Ohio bill known as the “Pastor Protection Act” has cleared a state House committee, but it is not certain whether lawmakers have enough time to pass the legislation this year.
H.B. 286, presented by Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, protects pastors from punishment in instances when they decline to officiate a wedding that is unbiblical or disallow their church buildings from being used for such ceremonies.
“No ordained or licensed minister … or religious society … is required to solemnize a marriage that does not conform to the ordained or licensed minister’s or religious society’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” it reads in part. “No religious society is required to allow any building or property of the religious society to be used to host a marriage ceremony for a marriage that does not conform to the religious society’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The bill declares that those who decline because of their adherence to the tenets of their faith are “immune from civil or criminal liability and neither the state nor a political subdivision of the state shall penalize or withhold any benefit or privilege from the ordained or licensed minister or religious society, including any governmental contract, grant, or license.”
Vitale said in July when he first announced his intent to introduce the bill that pastors should not be forced to violate their conscience.
“This is not an issue of discrimination,” he remarked in a statement. “It is an issue of protection; protection for those who have committed their lives to the service of God and their community.”
However, some have opined that the measure is unnecessary as pastors are already protected under the First Amendment.
“This legislation would send a message to same-sex couples that they are somehow a threat, against which protection is necessary,” Ian Lynch of Old South United Church of Christ told lawmakers on Tuesday prior to the vote. “Why would the Ohio legislature choose to go out of its way to send that sort of message? If there is a concern for protection, perhaps it should be protecting the reputation of the state as a place where all are welcome.”
The House Community and Family Advancement Committee approved the bill 9-4, allowing it to move forward to the full House, but the measure has until Dec. 8 to clear both the House and Senate or it will have to be reintroduced next year.
Co-sponsors include Reps. Brian Hill, R-Zanesville, Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, Ron Young, R-Leroy Township, Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, and Robert Sprague, R-Findlay.
Similar bills are being considered in Tennessee, Oklahoma and Alabama.