More and more voices are calling for House Bill 279 in Kentucky to not be made into law. The Kentucky Equality Federation has sent a four page letter to Governor Steve Beshear calling for him to veto the legislation while the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission has called for it not to get through the Assembly.
In part, KEF writes:
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.
The head of our legal department, Jillian Hall, Esq., our vice president of legal has outlined additional reasons:
House Bill 279 has the potential to harm local ordinances in place in Covington, Louisville, Lexington and Vicco.
Essentially, an individual can continue to discriminate against a gay individual in violation of the ordinance and be protected under this new law by showing that it is in conflict with their closely held religious beliefs. While the language adding “substantial” to the burden (via an amendment to the bill) does add some protections, the law still is a major step backward for the equality movement.
Right now, people discriminate freely and openly against the gay community without recourse due to the lack of a Kentucky statewide equality law.
Similar laws to this proposed bill have been passed in several other states after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1997 (as applied to the states).
This law is nothing more than a poor recitation of the First Amendment, and is a thinly veiled move by the legislature showing their lack of respect or tolerance for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and intersex community (LGBTI).
While I do not feel that this will significantly affect anything in the courts, this law, along with the Manhattan Declaration of 2010 acts to block forward progress and is a continued embarrassment for the Commonwealth.
Meanwhile, LMHRC Executive Director Carolyn Miller-Cooper stated that “The HRC supports religious freedom but is concerned about the overly broad language of HB 279. We urge the General Assembly not to open the door for discrimination by stopping HB 279 or amending it to include civil rights protections.”
They noted that HB 279 could allow for an individual to deny certain people access to public facilities, employment opportunities or housing so long as they base the denial on “a sincerely held religious belief.” They noted that:
An individual was denied a public accommodation because of his sexual orientation and the HRC issued a finding of Probable Cause in this case. Enforcement led to a default judgment against the business owner.
Another individual was denied equal employment treatment when he was passed over for a promotion due to his sexual orientation. The HRC issued a finding of Probable Cause and this case was finally settled for $11,000 plus.
Unfortunately, there are many historical examples of “sincerely held religious beliefs” used to discriminate against groups of people:
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.”