BY: ZEYNAB DAY
A controversial new bill focused on religious freedom passed from the Kentucky State House of Representatives on March 7 and to state senate on March 11.
Kentucky House Bill 279, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, has drawn the attention of the state division of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who is calling for an amendment to the language in the bill.
The bill was designed to help prevent discrimination of anyone regarding their religious beliefs as well as protecting actions taken against people on religious grounds, said Rep. David Meade, a Republican from Stanford.
But the ACLU is calling for changes to the language to protect against discrimination against individuals on religious grounds, such as preventing against prohibiting religious freedom.
Amber Duke, communications manager of the ACLU, said they felt the language used in the bill may enable individuals to discriminate against others based on religious beliefs.
Duke mentioned current federal laws do not include protection for all those who may face discrimination and HB 279 could lead to unfair housing and employment practices.
“In those protections [federal civil rights laws], they do not include gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals,” said Duke, stressing the importance for additional language to protect such individuals civil rights in the new bill.
Lexington and three other cities have passed civil rights ordinances to protect formerly unprotected individuals, however Duke said she feels HB 279 could place the current ordinances in danger.
“Our focus has been our concern about protecting these fairness laws we have fought so hard for,” Duke said.
The state ACLU and various other state and local organizations have posted letters and made phone calls to Gov. Steve Beshear to veto the bill until language is included to protect all individual civil rights and local civil rights ordinances.
A press conference was held on March 13 in the Capitol Rotunda to call for the veto.
Meade, who voted in support of the bill, called the efforts of the ACLU as “unfounded.”
“This bill does not affect anyone’s civil rights,” said Meade, emphasizing he felt the bill opened up civil rights freedoms for individuals with particular religious beliefs.
Mead pointed to a past case where Amish residents in Kentucky were asked to place orange or white triangles on their buggies as they were considered a road hazards because of their lack of lights. If the Amish citizens refused, they could face penalties.
Meade said HB 279 would give those Amish the ability to defend their religious beliefs, despite local ordinances.
“It’s about an individual’s civil rights,” Meade said.
Meade said the bill was not intended to be a vehicle to disregard any one individual’s civil rights and said he does not feel the bill will create any problems in that regard.