It appears the Florida version of the Pastor Protection Act has passed and will become law on July 1, 2016 here in the Sunshine State. When it was first proposed I was asked to comment on it and I also wrote an article on it at that time. With its passage I thought I would revisit the matter.
Florida seems to be following the pattern of several other states that have enacted similar legislation. Trudy Ring writing for the Advocate, a gay rights publication, said, “The U. S. Constitution assures that clergy members won’t be forced to perform any marriage they don’t endorse, but that’s not good enough for some Florida lawmakers, who today advanced a piece of state legislation that does the same thing.”
Trudy is not entirely right. While the First Amendment to the United States Constitution assures “the free exercise” of religion, those specific freedoms are not enumerated and could be subject to the interpretation of the United States Supreme Court.
Scott Plakon, a Republican in the Florida House of Representatives and the sponsor of the Pastor Protection Act, has said this law provides an “extra layer of protection.” That’s not entirely true either. All state statutes along with Florida’s are just one United States Supreme Court decision away from being unconstitutional. That “extra layer of protection” is as ephemeral as the will of the Court.
Since state statutes are subordinate to the United States Constitution, I said the Pastor Protection Act was “a waste of time.” I have rethought my position on that and here is the reason why.
It is true that any state legislative act has no binding effect on any future Supreme Court decision, and in that sense is “a waste of time.” But I do not believe Supreme Court Justices make rulings in a cultural vacuum. I think they are people like us in many respects and they are subject to peek out from under Lady Justice’s blinding mask on occasion.
Judicial decrees, like legislation, often have unintended results. I do not think Justice Kennedy ever intended his decision in Obergefell v. Hodges to become a right of one citizen to be able to coerce another to do something against the other’s firmly held convictions. I think the conflicts created between same-sex advocates and people of faith by Kennedy’s decision were not completely foreseen by the Court (I might be naïve here).
The legislation enacted here in Florida and other states to protect people with strong religious convictions, while not binding on the Court, could have an influence on the future outcome of a case that comes before the Court.
Whatever happens eventually in the legal realm, justice for believers is not guaranteed in this life. “Many seek a ruler’s favor, but justice for man comes from the Lord,” Proverbs 29:27. Ultimate justice for man does not rest with any earthly legislation or decree; it is lodged with a much higher Court of Appeal.