“The Religious Freedom Act,” a bill created in response to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control coverage mandate, cleared Kentucky’s Senate Thursday night despite activists’ warning that it could topple years of civil rights progress in the state and “make discrimination legal.”
“[The] legislation could be used by an individual or entity under the guise of a ‘sincerely held religious belief’ to violate the constitutional and civil rights of other persons or organizations,” the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights warned on Tuesday. “In other words, it could make discrimination legal if the discrimination perpetrated is claimed to be due to ‘a sincerely held religious belief.’”
Despite the potential for abuse, state senators advanced House Bill 279 Thursday night by a vote of 29-6, leaving its fate in the hands of Gov. Steve Beshear (D).
Here's the fun part: it's not just birth control you can object to. It's basically anything.
If it does become law, Kentucky’s “Religious Freedom Act” could enable discrimination against more than just women seeking birth control. Civil rights advocates worry that landlords and employers could also use the law to justify discriminating against LGBT people and minorities as well, all in the name of “religious freedom.”
Or women. Or other religions. Or people who are overweight. Or people who are short. Or people who have kids. How can you prove that the fact you hate LGBT people isn't a deeply held religious belief? For a non-trivial number of Kentuckians, that's what they say they absolutely believe in. I'm really hoping Dinosaur Steve can send this law packing, but given the massive vote totals in favor of the bill (82-7 in the state House, and 29-6 in the state Senate), a veto override is pretty much assured.
That leaves a court challenge to the bill. I'm hoping we get it sooner rather than later, because the law is pretty much in direct violation of several Supreme Court rulings on religious freedom.
Then again, considering the Roberts court is siding with churches these days, a broad ruling in the Obamacare contraception coverage cases brought by religious organizations could indeed make Kentucky's law perfectly legal. All it would take is five votes. It would get four, easily.
A big clue could be the SCOTUS ruling on DOMA. If the court decides that states do have the right to make their own decisions on discrimination, all bets are off.