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Pressure to Veto Religious Freedom Bill Mounts for Gov. Beshear

UPDATE (Friday 1:16 p.m.): Reports indicate that Gov. Steve Beshear will veto House Bill 279, the Religious Freedom Bill, according to its sponsor Rep. Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville) who will reportedly go to House leadership and ask to override the veto. The report comes from Bluegrass Polics, part of the Herald-Leader, via Twitter.

ORIGINAL POST:

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is still uncertain whether he will veto House Bill 279, known as the Religious Freedom Bill, but pressure is mounting for him to do so. The Courier-Journal in Louisville, the Commonwealth's largest newspaper, published an editorial urging a veto:

If Gov. Beshear signs House Bill 279, people who disagree with laws because of religious convictions could refuse to follow them in some circumstances.

Does that mean workers at a Baptist agency can resume the “religious coercion” of kids alleged in the lawsuit the state just settled?

It sure looks that way.

HB 279 is a bad bill.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has also come out against the bill:

"l believe it will take us backwards as a city and Commonwealth, hurting our strategic position in an increasingly global economy," he says. "And, I believe it hurts the very cause of freedom it is intended to defend. This legislation creates more questions than answers for the administration of government, the application of the law, and the protection of civil rights for all of our citizens."

Last week, the mayor and Covington city commission passed a resolution opposing HB 279 and while State Rep. Arnold Simpson (D-Covington) initially voted for the bill he later changed his mind and his vote, though the bill passed both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly with overwhelming support. 

On Thursday, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights outlined concerns it has about the bill in a letter to the governor.  “If passed into law, this legislation has the potential to have the unintended consequence of undermining the hard-won protections that ended legalized racial segregation, sexual discrimination, discrimination against people based upon their religions, and more,” said commission Chair George W. Stinson.

The letter read in part, "Potential House Bill 279 claims and defenses are virtually endless. The Muslim landlord who refuses to rent to Christians in violation of the KCRA may claim that he was justified by a sincerely held religious belief. The Christian employer who refuses to hire a Muslim in violation of the KCRA may claim that she was motivated by a sincerely held religious belief. The African American restaurant owner who refuses to serve white customers in violation of the KCRA may assert his right to discriminate because of his sincerely held religious belief. One thing is certain, if HB 279 becomes law, all of these claims and defenses will be raised, litigated and appealed through the judicial system. Much of the costs of this litigation will necessarily be borne by the taxpayers of the commonwealth.”

The bill was presented by its sponsors as a measure to protect religious freedom, but because of its broad language, the Commission said in a news release, individuals and religious organizations may claim a right to engage in discrimination made unlawful by the Kentucky Civil Rights Act on the grounds that a perpetrator’s actions of discrimination are ‘motivated by a sincerely held religious belief…’ Such a law could similarly block the enforcement of local civil rights ordinances by Louisville, Lexington, Covington and Vicco, which protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity, Stinson said.

The letter continued, “House Bill 279, as written, will not serve the cause of protecting religious freedom. Rather, it will threaten the religious freedom of all, by giving special protections to those few who may claim that their otherwise unlawful actions are nevertheless justified by a ‘sincerely held religious belief.’ In effect, HB 279 makes persons a law unto themselves, providing a convenient justification for infringing on the civil rights of others in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.”

Photo: Kentucky Governor's Mansion

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