So-Called "Pastor Protection" Passes Final Senate Committee
Senators Opposed Amendment Clarifying The Bill's Intent
The Pastor Protection Act (HB 43/SB 110) passed the Senate Rules committee today, its final committee stop in the Florida Senate. This dangerous and divisive bill already passed through its assigned House Committees and is now set to go to the floor in both chambers.
Committee members failed to approve an amendment introduced by Senator Darren Soto (D-14) that would have clarified the stated intent of the bill, which is to uphold the First Amendment rights of clergy around marriage ceremonies. The amendment would align the bill with existing Florida Civil Rights statutes by protecting clergy, houses of worship, and religiously affiliated organizations stipulated in statute. Unamended, the legislation is vague and does not stipulate which religiously affiliated organizations will be exempted by this legislation.
Members of both chambers have previously stated their support for expanding the scope of this bill to include all individuals who may wish to assert their religious or moral objections to avoid providing services to certain customers. Equality Florida opposes any such expansion of the bill. A bill that similarly allowed business owners to deny goods and services to gay and transgender customers in Indiana created a national uproar last year and cost the state over $60 million dollars in lost tourism revenue from conventions cancelled as a result.
Carlos Guillermo Smith, government affairs manager for Equality Florida, said in a statement, “Pastors and clergy already have the right to solemnize or not solemnize marriage ceremonies for any reason; that's how it's always been, and that's how it should be. The freedom of religion is important to all Americans, but the rule of law is also important, and sweeping religious exemptions will allow folks to pick and choose which laws they will follow. We urge the legislature to clarify the stated original intent of this bill and to reject any harmful amendments that would expand the scope of the bill.”
Faith leaders from across the state have traveled to Tallahassee to testify against this bill in every committee stop over the last 5 months. These clergy represent congregations from Pensacola to Miami, and a diverse group of denominations. Reverend John Vertigan, Conference Minister of the Florida Conference of the United Church Of Christ, presented a letter today to the Rules committee on behalf of the Conference’s 95 congregations and 20,000 members. “It saddens me that laws continue to be considered, under the guise of Pastor Protection, that promote the false narrative that religious freedom and the protection of churches is in conflict with basic human rights, especially the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender Floridians.”