Lawmakers override religious freedom veto

By Ben Finley/Associated Press, Published:

The General Assembly voted late Tuesday to override the governor’s veto of a bill intended to better protect legal claims of religious freedom.

The law will give stronger legal standing to people in court who claim the government burdened their ability to practice their religion. The legislation protects “sincerely held religious beliefs” from infringement unless there is “a compelling governmental interest.” The courts will still consider and rule on each matter.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed the bill Friday over concerns that someone’s claim of religious freedom could undermine civil rights protections for gays and lesbians and lead to costly lawsuits for taxpayers.

But sponsors of the bill said it would only provide a higher level of legal protection that already exists on the federal level and in at least 16 states. They said the law isn’t intended to discriminate against anyone, adding that the courts will have the final say on each claim.

The bill became one of the most polarizing issues during the legislative session, pitting civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky against religious organizations such as the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.

In the end, the House vote to override was 79-15. The Senate voted 32-6.

“This is a piece of legislation looking for a reason – because there is no reason for it other than what I perceive as pandering to a certain segment of this community,” said Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, who voted no.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, added that it will cost taxpayers money.

“Taxpayers you can blame us,” she said. “You got to get out your check books and write them to the ACLU. I’m a member.”

Democratic Rep. Bob Damron of Nicholasville sponsored the bill. He said it’s not intended to hurt anyone or undermine municipal civil rights protections.

He said it’s needed after the Kentucky Supreme Court’s ruling against the Amish last year. The court upheld a state law requiring the Amish to display bright orange safety triangles on their drab buggies so motorists could better see them. Several Amish men in rural western Kentucky went to jail rather than comply with the law.

Wayne State University law professor Christopher Lund reviewed the effects of 16 state religious freedom laws, finding they’ve largely been unused and that people who did claim religious infringement in those states lost more often than they won.

For example, the religious freedom law in New Mexico has so far failed to protect a Christian wedding photographer who refused to take pictures of a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. Two courts so far have ruled against her, saying she violated a state civil rights law. The state Supreme Court is reviewing her case.

Gov. Beshear has said that the wording in Kentucky’s bill is more vaguely worded than the other state laws.

“I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care and individuals’ civil rights,” he said after the override.

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  • This bill is completely inappropriate. It will allow discriminatory practices. All one has to say is they "sincerely believe" that (for example) renting to a gay person is against their religious beliefs, and therefore, they can discriminate against that person. This can be done in almost every scenario I can think of: women, gays, obesity, etc............................I an still fighting incredulity that this bill was introduced and passed. Kentucky has taken a big step backward......Where is my religious right to not have other peoples' beliefs forced upon me? Religion, prayers, bibles, and all other accoutrements belong in church and private residences. Not in our schools, the workplace, the housing market, or anywhere else.

  • Religion is religion (dohh), but the problem is when religion invades government and starts codifying its doctrine into laws that discriminate (read: hurt) against groups of people. You are right, it has been that way for a very long time in human civilization, but that does not make it right. Allowing this is against everything that our founding fathers stood for in developing our Constitution and Bill of Rights. ..................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... Government has NOT needlessly "ALTER THE SCRIPTURES & FORCE PEOPLE TO CHANGE HOW THEY BELIEVE & HOW THEY LIVE", as long as they weren't hurting anyone else. Just because something may have a religious slant, shouldn't give them a free pass to do whatever they like, when it hurts people...and that is what this law does. .................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................The only examples that have been mentioned as to why this bill was needed were ridiculous on their face, like folks in the horse drawn buggies riding on the public highways not wanting to hang an orange triangle on the back of them because it "attracts attention"! REALLY!!! You would think that after several of these gray buggies have been rear-ended at high speed that even that these religious fanatics would get the idea that they need to attract some attention to themselves out on the road. Your argument on this is nonsense, and is more like trying to put a happy face on Sharia Law than anything else. This is the stuff of the Taliban!

  • 1713, what you are forgetting is religion is RELIGION. It has always been that way & what people are wanting is the government not to ALTER THE SCRIPTURES & FORCE PEOPLE TO CHANGE HOW THEY BELIEVE & HOW THEY LIVE. Religion played a big part in how this country became about & it has ALWAYS BEEN SET UP FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO NOT INTERFERE WITH! over the years we have been getting police & judges both misapplying the laws to making new laws up from the bench. An overwhelming majority passed this law like laws are supposed to be made & the governor was wrong to veto this with the amount of votes that were cast in approving it. I can see where this law can be abused by a few but isn't all laws abused by some.

  • So, while the economy and job growth of our state staggers around like a drunken sailor, our legislators, in their infinite wisdom, are preoccupied with a bill that does nothing more than give people permission to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. Passing this Republican introduced bill (although it was supported by some Democrats, but not the Governor), took a lot of valuable time during the session, which should have been spent solving our many real problems. This is being done by Republican legislatures all over the country. The people did not elect these legislators to go to Frankfort and waste time on trash like this. The legislators did not run their campaigns on promises to this crap, they said that they were going to work on the states many economic woes! It is a classic case of bait and switch. If a business had just done this, it would have been illegal. When your elected officials do it, it is called politics. Where are the jobs, legislators, where ARE the J-O-B-S? WE need to fire a whole bunch of politicians for breach of contract!

  • This bill has nothing to do with "religious freedom" and everything to do with discrimination against women (like in pay inequities) , African Americans (like in housing) and gays (like in everything). 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. We should ALL be concerned about the overly broad language of HB 279, which does not include civil rights protections. The bill 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.”

  • The key phrase her is “a compelling governmental interest.”