Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Legal discrimination based on religious beliefs?

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A proposal that would strengthen people’s ability to ignore Kentucky regulations or laws that violate their religious beliefs cleared a House panel Monday. The bill is based on a similar 1993 federal law, said Rep. Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville). However, most states decided similar measures were necessary to deal with challenges to state laws.

The Republican-led Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment last year that contained similar language regarding religious freedoms. The measure, which would have required voter approval, died in the Democratic-led House.

Damron said Monday he doesn't believe a constitutional amendment is needed to enact the religious freedom protections outlined in HB 279. The legislation is being pushed by the Catholic Conference.

"Section V of the Kentucky Constitution gives us freedom of religion, and no additional legislation is necessary. This legislation has broad, overreaching government infringement on civil rights," said Kentucky Equality Federation president Jordan Palmer. "House Bill 279 is nothing short of freedom to discriminate based on religious beliefs which could by definition, mean anything. What about my civil right to not be inflicted by the religious beliefs of another person? The last time I checked, neither the commonwealth of Kentucky or the United States are religious states.  While Kentucky Equality Federation believes people may practice whatever religion they prefer, it cannot give them the right to deny fundamental civil rights to another person simply because they do not share the same religious beliefs."

City Equality Ordinances:
The measure might allow a landlord to use her religious beliefs to refuse to rent to a lesbian couple in a community where local ordinances ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Women's Rights:
The measure might also permit a landlord to use their religious beliefs to refuse to rent to a single, divorced, or unmarried couples. This is the case in the state of New York with in 2007 a Catholic landlord refused rental to a divorced, single mother.

House Bill 279 will easily pass the House of Representatives with nearly 50 co-sponsors (half the House) with support from both Democratic and Republican parties. The bill even has support from gay rights as well as Women's rights allies such as Representative Susan Westrom (D-Lexinton) and former Speaker of the House, Representative Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green).

House Bill 279 text:
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:


Government shall not burden a person's or religious organization's freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A "burden" shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.
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