By Robert Mann
Its official name is the “Pastor Protection Bill.” If the Louisiana House had a truth-in-advertising rule for legislation, however, the measure working its way through the Legislature would be known as the “Let’s Help Elect Mike Johnson to Congress Bill.”
Johnson is a Republican state House member from Bossier City in pursuit of a U.S. House seat. His bill, HB 597, is a solution in pursuit of a problem. That “problem” would be a state government forcing pastors to perform same-sex weddings.
Has anyone heard of pastors being threatened with government sanctions for refusing to perform same-sex weddings? Nope. Churches already have ample protection from government interference regarding hiring matters or what couples can use their sanctuaries for weddings. No government official can order a pastor or rabbi to officiate a wedding ceremony.
Johnson, however, wants lawmakers to waste time debating a bill that prohibits the government from doing what it already cannot do. Johnson’s bill says pastors “may not be required by the state to solemnize a marriage, nor provide access to facilities, services, accommodations, goods, or privileges of the church, faith, or religious organization … if the actions would be contrary to church doctrine, practice or in violation of the religious beliefs and principles of the clergy, church, or religious organization.”
Fair enough. No rational person is suggesting government should force pastors to preside at same-sex weddings.
But let’s say you’re a pastor who believes that God frowns on interracial marriage. What do Johnson and his Louisiana House colleagues think of your right to enforce that strongly held religious belief? Well, in this case, they seem to believe the government should, indeed, have every right to sanction you. An amendment to the bill says it “shall not apply to the heterosexual marriage of an interracial couple.”
In accepting this amendment during House debate, Johnson exposed the true intent of his bill. This is not about the absolute right of pastors to exercise their faith without government interference. It’s about Johnson’s desire to pillory a specific group of people – gay couples – to further his pursuit of higher office.
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