COLUMBUS, Ohio, February 17, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — A Republican state representative is calling on Ohioans for an urgent 11th-hour lobbying effort to support his bill defending pastors’ religious freedom.
Nino Vitale’s Ohio Pastors Protection Act (HB-36) will prevent clergy members from being forced to cooperate with homosexual “marriages.”
The Act allows pastors to refuse to preside over or rent church facilities for marriages “that do not conform” to their and their religious society’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” without fear of criminal and civil liability.
“I’m hoping to get this thing on the floor so I can get a public vote on it,” Vitale, a state representative for Urbana, told LifeSiteNews.
The state caucus meets Tuesday evening to decide how to proceed with the bill.
Vitale is asking citizens to contact their state representatives before 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to support the bill, which is posted on his website.
He has also posted the testimony of homosexual-rights group Equality Ohio during hearings on the bill.
“I’m trying to get this out so people can’t say, oh, they didn’t say that, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” Vitale told LifeSiteNews.
Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio, made it “very clear” the LGBTQ lobby will force pastors to cooperate with homosexual “marriages,” he said.
Jochum told the hearing last week that any facilities rented out by a church should be considered as “public accommodations” and fall under obligatory “civil rights norms.”
“Religious entities … are not always simply ‘houses of worship;’ they also include entities that engage in commerce — by operating conference centers, reception halls, engaging in equipment rental, and much more,” she testified.
“Public accommodations were defined at the federal in the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Jochum contended. “It’s what the lunch counter protests were about: If you’re open for business, you’re open for business to everyone. Period.”
Vitale said Jochum told him during questioning she believes “a religious faith community does not have religious liberty on their own property.”
He described his Pastors Protection Act as “a shield, not a sword” to safeguard religious liberty and civil discourse in a post-Obergefell world.
In ruling that homosexual persons have a right to “marry” each other, the Supreme Court in Obergefell “found a fundamental right to do something that certain Christian denominations say is wrong,” he said.
“So how do you figure that out? And that’s what I’m trying to do with this bill.”
HB-36 “doesn’t take any rights away,” Vitale pointed out.“It doesn’t say there’s no such thing as homosexual marriage, or we don’t recognize it, or anything else. It doesn’t speak to the Obergefell decision.”
The bill “simply says we’ve all got to find a way get along here,” Vitale asserted.
“We have to find a way to live in a society where if a person doesn’t want do something you want them to do, are you going to sue them? Or say, there’s 12 other cake bakers around.”
Vitale is not alone in his concern.
“Many Ohio faith leaders and parishioners” see “looming threats to the free exercise of religion, despite First Amendment protections,” he stated in last week’s hearings.
“I think the turnout of almost 40 pastors who came to testify on this bill in the last general assembly show they see a real threat,” Vitale added.
“This new bill just makes it clear, in this time of uncertainty, that Ohio clergy and Ohio church property remain protected from these types of legal challenges.”
Cleveland Right to Life describes as “necessary” and “a common sense piece of legislation” and is behind the lobby effort.
“We’re encouraging all pastors to get involved in supporting the Pastors Protection Act,” Molly Smith, president of Cleveland RTL, told LifeSiteNews.
Vitale is asking Ohioans to call their state representatives any time day or night between now and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to voice support for the legislation.
“Your state representative can be found by zip code (bottom left) at: www.OhioHouse.gov” his website notes.
“Tell them which county you live in & ask them to pass the Pastors Protection Act to protect my church & church property. (Call day or night & leave voicemail with your name, county & title if any)”
A Cleveland Right to Life action alert also asks people specifically to contact those Republicans representatives who did not co-sponsor HB-36.
They are: Anielski, Arndt, Blessing, Carfagna, Cupp, Dever, DeVitis, Duffey, Edwards, Faber, Gavarone, Ginter, Gonzales, Green, Hambley, Steve Huffman, Hughes, Kick, Landis, Lanese, LaTourette, Lipps, Nathan Manning, McColley, Tom Patton, Pelanda, Reineke, Rezabek, Scott Ryan, Scherer, Schuring, Seitz, Slaby, Ryan Smith, Stein.