A religious right to fire someone because they’re gay? Kansas House lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic, just advanced a bill that says yes, it is a matter of religious freedom.
The bill was approved 89-27.
The measure is supported by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration, the Kansas Catholic Conference and Concerned Women for America of Kansas. It was opposed by Lawrence officials, the Kansas Equality Coalition and the state chapter of the National Organization for Women.
Right before advancing the Kansas Preservation of Freedom Act, the House gave preliminary approval to putting a chapel for prayer and meditation in the Statehouse.
Both proposals will require a final vote before going to the Senate. Those votes will probably be taken Thursday.
The “Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act,” as it is known, apparently comes as a reaction to the college town of Lawrence passing an anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation.
Lawmakers said they were keen to ensure that citizens’ “religious right” to freedom of expression was not impacted by local governments exceeding state law and enacting sexual orientation-inclusive nondiscrimination rules.
However, when lawmakers were discussing this bill earlier in the year they even seemed to admit that they were using their religion as an excuse to discriminate.
Reports the Advocate (emphasis mine):
“I don’t think an ordinance should trump other people’s religious rights,” said Rep. Jan Pauls, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee that heard testimony about the bill. During a forum earlier this year, Pauls gave an example to explain why she backs the bill, saying an employer should be allowed to fire a “cross dresser.”
“The question is personal belief as far as religion,” she said. “Should that be trumped by forcing people to then support a lifestyle that they don’t support due to their religion?”
“If this law were passed,” Pauls explained, “people could bring up their religion as a reason that they did not want to follow the ordinances.”
While the bill received overwhelming support during Wednesday’s vote, some lawmakers did stand up against it, including State Rep. Charlie Roth, R-Salina, who said that Kinzer’s legislation was “homophobic.” He reportedly went so far as to say that the bill would hurt Kansas’ image because “it sends the message that Kansas is not welcoming. Kansas will become known as the land of the pure as defined by the few.”
This bill is similar to one passed in Tennessee last year that nullified local ordinances that exceed state level protections.
The Kansas bill would appear to fall just short of that by packaging this as an opt-out clause rather than a provision that, short of Legislature action, serves as a blanket ban on sexual orientation-inclusive provisions.
This is likely to try and fend off legal challenges like the one currently underway in Tennessee, but the chilling effect on civil rights is essentially the same — lesbian and gay citizens would remain vulnerable to workplace, housing and credit discrimination, and local government powers will be curtailed.
What is perhaps worse in this case however, is that the state Legislature is explicitly attempting to write into law an overreaching provision for religious privilege.