A slew of bills goes into effect today and among those measures is the so-called Pastor Protection Act.
Some call the bill the Conscience Protection Act. And the measure’s sponsor Longwood Republican Representative Scott Plakon says that makes sense.
“Conscience Protection has been in our country for many, many years. We protect the conscience of Quakers. I even found the story of a guy who was a vegan and was asked to deliver discounts for meat products and it was okay for him to opt out of that. So this is a way that we can all live together with different beliefs,” Plakon says.
Others call it the Pastor Protection. And while many religious leaders spoke in favor of the legislation, other pastors, like Brant Copeland filled committee rooms during the last legislative session to convince lawmakers the nickname isn’t apt.
“The pastor Protection Act, so called, is mislabeled, in my opinion. I don’t need protection. I have the bill of rights, which protects me quite thoroughly, thank you very much,” Copeland says.
No matter what it’s called, the measure codifies a protection many say is already covered by the First Amendment by putting rules on the books that shield churches and clergy members from lawsuits if they refuse to participate in a marriage ceremony that violates their beliefs. And members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender or LGBT community say that language seems to be aimed directly at them. Representative David Richardson is the state’s only openly gay lawmaker. On the day the bill passed in the House, Richardson called the measure an “insult to the gay community.”
“This bill is about discriminating in the name of religion, sadly,”
The LGBT rights organization Equality Florida fought against the legislation until a last minute amendment created a compromise the organization says offers some protections for the LGBT community and keeps the measure from being expanded.
Plakon says the hopes the new law will never need to be used. But he feels it’s important to have it on the books, just in case.
“I don’t think anyone should take offense to this bill. You know there’s two sides to this coin. The Supreme Court has clearly ruled that LGBT couples can marry nationwide, but they were unclear about what religious freedom protections would be needed after that. So I would like to believe that people in the LGBT community would be in favor of pastors and other religious leaders not being forced to participate in a ceremony that they disagree with,” Plakon says.
The measure is taking effect just a few weeks after a mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando left 49 victims dead.