Thursday, March 7, 2013

Kentucky bill might let Christians thumb their nose at civil rights laws

In Kentucky, gay rights and civil liberties defenders are staging a last-ditch effort against a bill that would allow people to defy laws and regulations that “substantially burden” their religious beliefs  unless there is a proven, “compelling governmental interest.”
     The bill sailed through the state House last week and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 9-2 Wednesday.
     Opponents say it could let business owners and other individuals defy state and local civil-rights laws, including those in four Kentucky cities that prohibit anti-gay bias: Covington, Louisville, Lexington and Vicco.
     The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky opposes the bill unless it explicitly exempts civil-rights laws, but such an amendment failed in the House:
“Without those civil-rights protections, we fear the worst,” Derek Selznick of the ACLU said earlier this week. He said the bill could invite legal challenges to local gay-rights laws and statewide civil-rights protections for such groups as racial minorities and women.
     ACLU attorney William Sharp testified that the bill creates an impermissible risk. “For example, there are those in in Kentucky who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds,” he said, noting that the bill would prohibit the government from assessing penalties.
      Rep. Bob Damron, a Nicholasville Democrat who sponsered the bill, said that 13 states have passed similar laws, and a dozen others have similar provisions in their constitutions.
Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Executive Director John J. Johnson said this:
“We’ve had a long history and struggle of civil-rights battles. In many instances, the support for civil rights has come from the faith-based community, but in some instances, people have hidden behind their so-called belief in religion to say there should not be a mixing of the races. I’m not really sure why there’s a need to address that again in this state, where we take the chance of somebody deciding, ‘Because my religious belief is one thing ... I can discriminate.’ ”
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, is worried that the bill appears to be on a fast track. He said proponents “are more interested in getting it passed now than getting the most responsible piece of legislation.”

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