There is and has always been a delicate balance between freedom of and freedom from religion in the United States. Too often, freedom of religion has trumped freedom from religion as minority religions have often been trampled upon by the majority religions. This manifested again in the debate over House Bill 279 in Kentucky, which passed the House 82 to 7 with 11 abstentions.
HB 279 was passed by Democratic Representative Bob Damron who believes that the measure would simply clarify religious freedoms in state law in a manner similar to laws in thirteen other states and the Federal Government. Not everyone believes that this is true, and several Representatives have pointed to the fact that the law was being pushed by the Catholic Church as a means to bypass regulations requiring their non-worship employment organizations to provide free women’s reproductive healthcare.
Representative Mary Lou Marzian, a fellow Democrat, noted that many hospitals in Kentucky are now owned by the Catholic Church and many of their employees are not Catholic, and would lose their ability to access that particular form of healthcare. She stated that “Religious freedom sounds so Mom and apple pie.”
Even more, Representative Kelly Flood noted that the bill could make it easier for the Catholic Church to further cover up crimes committed by priests by citing religious reasons for not complying with court orders. Representative Stan Lee, a Republican, countered that religious freedom had been eroded over time, and that “The bill does not grant immunity to one priest.” Unfortunately, he seems to have misunderstood the point of Flood’s criticism given the fact that the Catholic Church has repeatedly claimed religious exemption to try and get out of paying for or being held accountable for the crimes of various priests and the cover ups.
The ACLU, however, was more concerned about how a landlord could use religion to refuse to rent to minorities of all kinds. They stated “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.” Most of the attacks on racial minorities have a basis in religion.
Jordan Palmer, the president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, stated “House Bill 279 represents a clear and present danger to the gay and lesbian community and other minority groups around the commonwealth. Thousands of Kentuckians are opposing the legislation. We urge Governor Steve Beshear to veto the legislation. Both the Kentucky and U.S. constitutions provide for freedom of religion and Kentucky Equality Federation supports freedom of religion. However, what we need is freedom from religion; lawmakers use religion as a means to deny someone a fundamental civil right. In 2010 the Kentucky House of Representatives passed Resolution 232, the Manhattan Declaration making Christianity the official religion of the Commonwealth. (voting record). House Bill 279 does nothing more than give people permission to discriminate based on their religious beliefs thereby taking it beyond ‘freedom of religion’ to ‘forced religion’ because they have imposed their religious beliefs on others with legal authority to do so.”
Damron, however, showed little understanding of that problem by pointing to the battle over the fight between the state and the Amish over what kinds of reflective devises could be used on horse-drawn buggies. Many Amish refused to use fluorescent orange triangles to warn motorists. That battle was easily dealt with by passing a law making it legal for the Amish to just use silver reflective tape.