The Georgia House unanimously passed House Bill 757, the Pastor Protection Act, on Thursday, sending the measure to the Senate for its consideration. The measure, which is similar to laws in some other states reaffirms the separation of church and state in Georgia, and contains provisions that affirm a religious leader’s right to refuse to perform marriages and other ceremonies that violate his or her faith. It also protects religious organizations from being required to host an event that goes against its faith, and protects businesses from ordinances requiring them to be open on days of rest.
After bill sponsor Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville explained the measure, members from both parties, including Budget Chairman Terry England of Auburn and Al Williams of Midway took to the well in support of the bill. But, it was Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge, who announced the measure at a July legislative retreat who made a strong plea for people to come together in support of the bill. The speaker pointed out that issues of significance like religious freedom can be approached in two ways: by drawing lines in the sand, lashing out at those who oppose us, and remaining intractible. The other option is by seeking out common ground and building trust, which allows moving forward together. The Speaker went on:
My purpose is not to prey upon the fears of those we represent, or to use their fears for other motives because I believe this bill shows that starting where there is agreement and mutual trust can be much more productive than attempting to span what seems to be a bottomless chasm.
Abraham Lincoln knew the danger of attempting to leap across this chasm. Tomorrow is his birthday. In 1854, he spoke to the state Republican convention in Illinois, and made a famous pronouncement by going back to the Gospel of Mark when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
While he spoke on the topic of slavery, I think we can make the same observation today. I believe that we as representatives of the people owe it to those we serve to find a way forward, and it is my hope that on an issue of this importance, and charged with such deep emotion, that this bill can be the first productive discussion.
With the bill heading to the Senate, the Speaker hopes that it will pass unamended, however Ralston was realistic about the possibility of amendments. When asked about the other bills dealing with religious liberty, the speaker indicated those bills were in committee, and that he planned to let toe committees do their work.