Kentucky Just Gave Every Bigot a Right to Discriminate

The Kentucky legislature voted this week to override a governor veto on a bill that, critics warn, gives every bigot free license to discriminate by pretending it’s their sincerely held religious belief.

Introduced on February 7, the Religious Freedom Act, House Bill 279, carves out in law that the “government shall not burden a person’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion” and that the government must “protect the right to act or refuse to act on religious grounds.”

Furthermore, the bill requires the government to “prove by clear and convincing evidence” and “a compelling governmental interest” that any move to “establish a burden on the freedom of religion” is necessary. The key problem is the bill makes no attempt to define any of the above terminology as to what constitutes “evidence” or a “substantial burden.”

The ACLU has a detailed overview of how these so-called “religious exemptions” are used across America large to small scale, and how they seem to particularly target women employees and LGBT people to deny reproductive health care and to deny services, employment and housing.

Understandably, a number of groups have voiced severe reservations about the bill, including The Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, PFLAG, Lexington Fair Housing Council, and Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers.

Despite this, the act originally steamrollered its way through the state’s legislature only to fall at the last hurdle when Governor Steve Beshear (D) issued a veto, wherein he cited the potential implications of the bill:

I value and cherish our rights to religious freedom and I appreciate the good intentions of House Bill 279 and the members of the General Assembly who supported this bill to protect our constitutional rights to practice our religion. However, I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals’ civil rights.

The Republican-controlled legislature ignored Beshear’s reservations and, with the house voting 79-15 and the Senate 32-6, they managed to override the veto.

Supporters have said that this legislation simply follows the federal legislation like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), however the federal legislation reads much narrower than the vague language used in HB 279 as it concerns itself specifically with free exercise of religion. Even then, the RFRA was deemed unconstitutional in City of Boerne v. Flores, though it continues to be enforced in some cases, demonstrating how problematic this kind of legislation has been when squared against civil rights.

Potentially, critics say, the bill’s reach could be absolutely devastating. It could, for instance, be used in schools to undermine science, health and social studies education; it could be used to cloak those within religious groups who may have shielded abusers; and it could also be used to mask other forms of discrimination in the employment and public accommodations sectors such as anti-gay discrimination and racism.

Governor Bashear said it best in his veto message, opining, “As written, the bill will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation.”

Costly but, sadly, necessary.


Related Reading:

Kentucky Advances Religious Freedom Act

Kentucky Gives Creationist Theme Park 75% Tax Discount

Interracial Couples Not Welcome in Kentucky Church

Image credit: Thinkstock.


Sabrina I.
Past Member 4 years ago

:_____: thank you for the article...

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago

All bigots united in Kentucky? Get the drones ready!

Rex J.
Rex J4 years ago

If you have a kindergarten mentality then Kentucky is your state and the GOP is your party. If you are anywhere above that mentally level then they are not for you.

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider4 years ago


David King
David King4 years ago

There was another one as well:

the USA (until Eisenhower became president and put "in God we Trust" on all of our money and court rooms etc...)

Harley Williams
Harley W4 years ago

There was a country that had a Freedom from Religion law. It was called the USSR. In China there is also a Freedom from Religion law.
This law should not protect abusers or murderers since the Bible and Christianity opposes spousal abuse and murder. Before the Government steps in and forces me to do something I am opposed to should it not have a clear and compelling reason instead of just that the leaders feel like it. Right now lawyers are trying to show that the government has a clear and compelling reason to stop Gay marriage, which I doubt they can do so they will not be able to prohibit Gay Marriage. A person’s rights should be protected even when we disagree with them.
I am opposed to Religious people forcing their beliefs on others. There should be no forced prayer in public school but teachers should not patrol school and throw out students who pray either. Why is the middle of the road so hard to maintain.

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia4 years ago

If a person shoots up an abortion clinic for "religious convictions", is that okay? Religious "rights" is getting out of hand in this country,

Gene Jacobson
Gene J4 years ago

(continued)Anything less and it is just one person telling another person what to do and how to do it. Freedom from that would be a good thing. Freedom of it is quite a bit more problematic. As is evidenced by this silly story.

Gene Jacobson
Gene J4 years ago

Well, one more state to cross off my vacation destination list. Gawd, I can't leave Minnesota! You know, I would have preferred the framers to have written that as "freedom FROM" religion as opposed to freedom OF religion. The difference? Everyone could just believe what they wanted and leave the rest to do the same. It would, for instance, constitutionally bar legislation like this from ever being enacted because there'd be no need to since we'd all be on our own to believe what we wished, or not, without interference of government into what is and has always been an intensely personal practice. That some band together to practice religion is the problem, because the next thing they do is decide that since they have THE truth, their duty is to force it down the throats of everyone else. Freedom FROM that would have been, pardon the phrase, a Godsend. As John Lennon sang so eloquently "and no religion too". It is religion that divides us, it is a human created contrivance to give some men power over all others and no one can "prove" different, every thing about religion has been written by men, and some women, the "divinely inspired" part may lend credence to some but it cannot be proven and yet it is the source of much of the worlds danger and always has been. It is supposed to be about love, but it is far more often about war and hate and fear. One should NOT be allowed to say "God" told me to - unless one can produce God to testify to the instruction. Anything

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle4 years ago

Woohoo, I'm with Henri D. on his assessment of John H. How can any of us pretend to know the mind of our Creator? Yet some people think they know exactly what God wants. It's insane.
That said, it is incredible that these people who claim religious exemption to honoring the rights of their fellow human beings can't seem that it is the same thing as supporting slavery. A milder degree but it is the same thing. Unless you honor the rights of your fellow human being how can you call yourself a Christian or an American? The Christian faith teaches you to honor and respect everyone. The Constitution guarentees the rights of all. This law goes against both.