Do clergy need protection beyond their Religious Freedom Rights guaranteed by the US Constitution?
Well, Rep. A. Nino Vitale, of the 85th House District of the State of Ohio apparently thinks so. He is trying to muster like-minded support for a measure that will assure that clergy cannot be sued or prosecuted for not performing marriages of same-sex partners. In a personal email correspondence with this legislator, he assures me that he thinks that such protection is needed to assuage the fears of pastors who have contacted him. If you do not know Mr. Vitale, he is a 16-year resident of Champaign County, who remains active in his community, has served as vice president of Champaign County Right to Life, a Cub Scout leader; Ohio Foster Family. He is also an NRA pistol instructor and an active member of St. Mary’s Church in Urbana.
I wonder if any clergyman/clergywoman has asked for protection so they are not sued or prosecuted for not performing a marriage of a divorced person? There are denominations and individual clergy who insist that divorced persons may not be married again. I would guess that Mr. Vitale is well aware that the priests of his Roman Catholic parish are bound by canon law to not marry divorced persons (unless granted annulments by his Church). Does he not think that these clergy need the protection of his measure? Why not?
Because Rep.Vitale knows full well that those clergy are already protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices.
When I called this to Rep. Vitale’s attention in our email correspondence, he replied that he would prefer to have the Constitution defined by the dissenting minority of the recent decision for marriage equality. In other words, it really does not matter to Rep. Vitale just what the SCOTUS decides in its majority decisions, he and the like-minded of his constituency know the law better than the Supreme Court. They depend upon a loud minority to understand the Law of the Land.
I would only ask Rep. Vitale and those who want pastors protected, why they have not wanted to protect these clergy against the rages of the divorced suing them and their congregations or their being charged with an offense for not marrying divorced persons who have court-issued licenses to marry? That is a very easily understood answer: clergy need no protection other than what they already have. They are not required before the law law to do anything that their religion prohibits.
Opinions like Rep. Vitale’s make me wonder just what part prejudice and bigotry play in the effort to protect clergy?