FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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LOUISVILLE, KY – Today Kentucky's House passed House Bill 279. The bill, entitled the Religious Freedom Bill, is designed to protect individuals' religious liberty from undue governmental interference. And though laudable in its purpose, the bill, as currently drafted, would undermine existing civil rights protections in the Commonwealth. It now moves on to the Senate.
If the Senate chooses to keep the bill's current language, and not amend it to include specific protections for civil rights laws, a religious individual could claim an exemption from any law or policy that prohibits discrimination-leaving racial minorities, women, LGBT people and others without adequate protections. We are particularly concerned that this bill could be used to undermine existing LGBT Fairness protections for individuals covered by local statutes in Louisville, Lexington, Covington and Vicco, Kentucky.
There are a number of historical examples of people using religious freedom to discriminate in the United States:
- Against African-Americans: In 1966, three African-American customers brought a suit against Piggie Park restaurants, and their owner, Maurice Bessinger, for refusal to serve them.Bessinger argued that enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits that type of discrimination, violated his religious freedom "since his religious beliefs compel[ed] him to oppose any integration of the races whatever."
- Against women: In 1976, Roanoke Valley Christian Schools added a "head of household" supplement to their teachers' salaries – which according to their beliefs meant married men, and not women.When sued under the Equal Pay Act, Roanoke Valley claimed a right to an exemption.According to the church pastor affiliated with the school, "[w]hen we turned to the Scriptures to determine head of household, by scriptural basis, we found that the Bible clearly teaches that the husband is the head of the house, head of the wife, head of the family."
- Against interracial marriages: In the 1980's, Bob Jones University, a religiously-affiliated school in South Carolina, wanted an exemption from a rule denying tax-exempt status to schools that practice racial discrimination.The "sponsors of the University genuinely believe[d] that the Bible forbids interracial dating and marriage," and it was school policy that students engaged in interracial relationships, or advocacy thereof, would be expelled.
The ACLU of Kentucky seeks modest amendments to ensure the bill strikes the proper balance between individuals' religious freedom and others' civil rights protections. The ACLU seeks to protect the rights of individuals to worship, or not, as they choose, as well as the rights of others to receive civil rights protections by amending HB 279 to explicitly acknowledge that it does not authorize, nor serve as a defense to, religiously motivated actions that undermine civil rights protection. We want to prevent religion from being used to defy any anti-discrimination laws-federal, state or local.