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 Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.

 

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