They’ll end up “behind bars, which is exactly where they belong.”
If one statement can sum up the overwhelming hostility toward religious freedom from secular liberals in Richmond, it’s that one from Senate minority leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield). Never one to mince words, Senator Saslaw made it abundantly clear what his party and its supporters’ view of those few government officials who happen to believe the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion applies to them.
Senator Saslaw made his comments during yet another tense debate over the issue of our right of conscience, this time while debating HB 773, which left the House as the Government Non-Discrimination Act but was completely changed by the Senate into little more than a restatement of current law. Sadly, while alleging that pastors aren’t under threat of being forced to participate in same-sex weddings, secular liberals in the Senate continued to refer to that protection as “discriminatory.” Their message is clear: clergy are protected, for now, but not for long if the secular left has its way.
One of the primary arguments against the bill comes from a misreading of the law by liberals – and from their own hostility to the right of conscience. They complain that the bill applies to anyone in Virginia who “solemnizes” weddings, including judges, meaning that the proposal could allow a judge to decide to not participate in a same-sex wedding. Liberals compare that to Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it violated her beliefs, arguing that government officials have no choice but to “follow the law.”
Senator Tom Garrett (R-22, Lousia) made the case that the First Amendment applies to government officials as well, arguing that the Constitution is supposed to protect judges or clerks just as much as it does pastors and priests. Unfortunately, that is not a belief shared by many in the General Assembly. Beyond that, Virginia law simply authorizes judges to solemnize weddings; it doesn’t require them to do so. Right now, a judge could say no to anyone who asks them to perform a marriage. That doesn’t change with any of the religious freedom bills introduced.
Regardless, it’s one thing to believe government officials don’t have a right of conscience; it’s a whole different thing to believe they should go to jail if they practice it!
In an excellent article concerning a similar debate taking place in Georgia, The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson said, “In June 2015, the Supreme Court redefined marriage throughout America by mandating that governmental entities treat same-sex relationships as marriages. The Supreme Court, however, did not say that private schools, charities, businesses, or individuals must abandon their beliefs if they disagree.”
As the debate in Virginia and across America continues to unfold, it is very clear that secular liberals have every intention of weaponizing government to do just that – force those who have deeply held beliefs about marriage to abandon them in order to participate in the public square. The question remains: will there be enough politicians with the courage enough to stand up to them?
Moments after the above debate concluded on HB 773, six Democrats in the Senate voted against a different bill that simply reaffirms the Commonwealth’s commitment to Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom.