State Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana

Why does state Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, think that the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom needs a redundant bulking up in the form of his Ohio Pastor Protection Act?

When he first introduced the bill in 2015, Vitale wrote to colleagues: “I will soon be introducing legislation that will protect Ohio pastors, clergy, and ministers and the property associated with the religious organization,” ignoring the fact that such protection already exists and has never been seriously threatened except in the fevered imaginations of conservatives like Vitale.

“This protection will allow these individuals to exercise religious liberty and only perform ceremonies if they are in line with their deeply held religious beliefs.” Which, of course, is already the case. No pastor in Ohio is forced to solemnize marriage. This is a preposterous waste of time.

The muse of tautological statutory law visited Vitale after the Texas legislature passed its own Pastor Protection Act in 2015. And the representative of Ohio’s 85th House District was also duly impressed by similar proposals in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Alabama, apparently.

Oh how it’s been the dearest wish of my heart that the Ohio state legislature would more often imitate the priorities of Alabama. Vitale’s brought back the proposal for 2017.

“Ohio’s pastors and church organizations should not be forced to violate their conscience,” Vitale wrote, and never you mind the fact that we aren’t. “I believe it is time for us to protect these servants of God in the State of Ohio.”

The Ohio Constitution already does this. So what’s Vitale’s point here?

Being a licensed minister myself, registered with the Ohio Secretary of State to solemnize marriage, I certainly appreciate Vitale’s kind gesture. And I must say what a fine and nice thing it is now, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, not only to be able to consecrate marriages in my home state, but also to be able to get married myself.

Entertained as I might be by Rep. Vitale’s proposal to reinvent the wheel, as it were, it’s always been my belief that Mssrs. Madison and Jefferson already did a damn fine job on religious freedom back in the 18th Century.

D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.

  • BonnieB7

    This is a ridiculous bill; unnecessary and redundant. I spoke to my pastor about it (to get his take on it). Here is his response:
    February 11, 2017

    Re: Ohio House Bill 36, Ohio Pastor Protection Act, 132 General Assembly, Regular Session 2017-2018

    This bill is very general in its statement about what beliefs and policies are being protected. Presently many pastors are required by their denominations, or churches, or their own understanding of scripture, to refuse marriage to couples because they are gay, or divorced, or immature, or non-members, or for any other reason pastors deem as being evidence that couples are not suited for entering a covenant of marriage as an act of commitment within their religious faith. I believe those religious convictions need to be protected even though they often differ from my own personal beliefs. I am not sure this bill is necessary. I believe we pastors are already protected by the Constitution of the United States of America; however, if this bill relieves the fears of churches and pastors who are uncertain as to how they would fare under the laws of Ohio, then I suppose this bill has some merit.

    One could oppose this bill because it is unnecessary or because it seems to target certain couples, that is, couples that are gay. It might be difficult to make that argument since there is no mention of gays and because there are other reasons for churches and clergy to deny marriage. I would probably attack this bill for not being inclusive of all clergy. Whereas it supposedly protects pastors and churches from performing marriages contrary to their beliefs, it seems to me that it should offer the same protection for denominations and churches and pastors whose beliefs include the marriage of all couples whose marriage has been legally approved of by the state. This does get a bit tricky since, for example, I believe in the marriage of gays, indeed I believe gays should live in covenant with one another, but I am a member of a denomination that prevents me from marrying gays. I doubt that the law will protect my personal conviction over the rights of my denomination to uphold its beliefs through its member pastors. However, I would like for the State to protect the rights of those denominations and churches and pastors who do marry gay couples. Beyond that, my argument is with my own church denomination, and not with the State of Ohio. Meanwhile, I pray for enlightenment and love, to the end that the kingdom may come, and God’s will is done on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen!

    Rev. Dr. Gary L. Eubank, pastor
    New Lebanon United Methodist Church

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