Photo credit: John Cheves
By John Cheves
A Senate committee approved two “religious liberty” bills Thursday, one to legally protect businesses that don’t want to serve gay, lesbian or transgender customers because of the owners’ religious objections, and the other to protect religious expression in public schools.
The first measure, Senate Bill 180, would prohibit the government from compelling services or actions from anyone if doing so conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs. The bill expands the state’s 2013 Religious Freedom Restoration Act to clarify that businesses could not be punished in such cases for violating local ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, the bill’s sponsor, said there are Christian-owned bakeries, florists and photographers in Kentucky that don’t want to assist with same-sex weddings. However, they also don’t want to face civil-rights lawsuits by spurned customers and punitive fines by local civil-rights agencies, Robinson said.
“All of these business owners want to treat everyone with full human dignity and respect,” Robinson, R-London, told the Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection. “But their consciences and religious beliefs prevent them from using their skills to promote a celebration that runs counter to what the Bible teaches about marriage. Shouldn’t their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion be respected?”
Robinson said he’s also responding to the case of Hands On Originals, a Lexington business that refused to print T-shirts in 2012 for the Lexington Pride Festival, citing the owner’s religious objections.
The Lexington Human Rights Commission found that Hands On Originals violated the city’s Fairness Ordinance requiring service to gays and lesbians. But Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael overturned that decision, ruling that there was no evidence the business refused the T-shirt order because of the sexuality of the would-be customers. Rather, the business objected to the shirt’s message “advocating sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman,” he wrote. The case is now on appeal.
“There is an agenda at work here that seeks to force people with sincerely held religious convictions to either abandon these beliefs or violate them or face state action that could close their businesses and destroy them financially,” Robinson told his colleagues Thursday.
As written, the bill would cover governments as well as businesses, limiting the power of public agencies to infringe on the “right of conscience” or “freedom of religion” of people who work for them.
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