Religious Freedom Bill Moves to Senate Floor

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
March 11, 2013 11:15 am

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Senate Judiciary Committee’s Failure to Include Civil Rights Amendment Leaves Many Vulnerable

March 11, 2013

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LOUISVILLE, KY – The Senate Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 279, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to the Senate floor without an amendment for civil rights protections, despite warnings of the consequences.

American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky staff attorney William Sharp testified before the committee. “HB 279, as drafted, creates an impermissible risk that existing civil rights protections would be subject to a patchwork of exemptions in a wide array of housing and public accommodation contexts that would, in effect, undermine those protections if not render them practically unenforceable,” shared Sharp.

The ACLU of Kentucky was seeking a modest amendment to ensure the bill struck the proper balance between individuals’ religious freedom and others’ civil rights protections. As the bill heads to the Senate floor without that amendment, and passage likely, we now seek a gubernatorial veto to prevent religion from being used to defy any anti-discrimination laws-federal, state or local.

“Passage of this legislation is an affront to those who have fought for decades to insure that every Kentuckian is treated with dignity and respect,” said ACLU of Kentucky executive director Michael Aldridge. “Senate Minority Whip Jerry Rhoads was correct when he said the legislature was ‘opening up Pandora’s Box’ during today’s committee vote. The unintended consequences of this broad legislation are numerous and we hope that a thorough review by the Governor will reveal the flaws in the bill as drafted,” added Aldridge.

By choosing 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. This is a view shared publicly by a number of organizations and agencies including the commonwealth’s own Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission, Fairness Campaign, Kentucky Fairness Alliance, Lexington Fairness and the National Association of Social Workers-Kentucky Chapter.

Senator Jerry Rhoads (D-Muhlenburg) added his name to the growing list of those concerned about the bill, stating that it could have “unintended consequences” that do not serve the interests of protecting religious freedom.

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