protecting bigotry

Religious Freedom Laws Cartoon pfen949Why do legislators think we need so much protection?

It seems that they are always modifying current law to protect us from that Boogerbear or that Devil? And the fact is that we often don’t need their help at being protected, for we already have more protection in our Bill of Rights and Constitution than most people in other countries of the world.

Yet legislators feel that they can re-write the law to give us more protection that we certainly need. We bet most of the Founding Fathers would be upset with many current “improvement” protections.

Now comes none other than Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, the Republican from Blue Ridge, anticipating that he will make sure that the pastors of Georgia have protections, which are already guaranteed them in the First Amendment.   Lucky pastors!

What the speaker is seeking is to show that the Grand Old Party will protect pastors and their flocks, when these people don’t need further protection. In fact, we suspect that if such a wording was added to the Georgia Constitution, it would more likely erode protections, should a canny lawyer start snooping around in the nuances of such a bill.

This is another case of a legislator, himself the chief House solon, trying his best to gain some personal advantage out of the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. The good Speaker doesn’t want any pastor to be required to perform such a ceremony.

We don’t know anything about Speaker Ralston’s own religion, but we feel pastors already can make up their own mind as to who they will marry. And should they deny performing the vows for one couple, what would stop the couple from asking another minister to perform that rite? If the pastor doesn’t want to perform that ceremony, that seems to us to be his own right to refuse.

What the speaker is attempting is to jump into the fray where he, nor new laws, are not needed.

Look at the language of the overriding measure in this debate, the First Amendment to the Constitution. It says in 46 simple words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Note the phrase: ““Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” That seems mighty straight-forward. It certainly reads to many people that Congress and our laws should stay out of the arena of religion and churches, and the next part “or the free exercise thereof” covers all sorts of activities within the church, including marriage.

You might also note that if someone feels harmed, they can petition the government, we presume through the courts, for a clarification of whatever harmed them. That’s redressing a grievance. Any pastor who someone might sue for not performing a marriage could counter-sue with these protections that the First Amendment ensures. (Even non-lawyers should understand this.)

We suspect that the gay marriage decision will soon subside, and most Americans will recognize it as the law of the land. That’s the route big court decisions usually take. It’s just the people who feel disjointed as such decisions that keep the conversation going on far too long. Right now that looks like that includes the Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.

Editor's Note: This story originally posted at the Gwinnett Forum. Image: Religious Freedom Laws Cartoon by Paul Fell and licensed by at
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County,, and Georgia news,