Exclusive: Ralston to propose ‘pastor protection act’

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, wants state lawmakers next year to adopt a “pastor’s protection act” to ensure no church leader can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding.

Ralston informed his fellow House Republicans of the plan at a caucus meeting Saturday in Jekyll Island, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned, and said he would advocate for the plan when lawmakers return to session in January.

“While the speaker believes that the recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges should have been left to elected legislators, that opinion is now the law of the land and, as the governor and attorney general have said, will be followed in Georgia,” Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen said.

The policy, he said, would be “narrowly crafted to ensure that pastors, priests and other members of the clergy will never be required by government to perform any marriage not keeping with their religious doctrine.”

McMichen said the current working version of the bill says:

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“No minister of the gospel or cleric or religious practitioner ordained or authorized to solemnize marriages according to the usages of the denomination, when acting in his or her official religious capacity, shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion.”

Questions remain, however, over whether Ralston’s proposal provides protections not already guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and what the bill would mean to the fate of a so-called “religious liberty” bill that has caused a ruckus in Georgia for the past 18 months.

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