Kansas panel advances bill protecting college religious groups amid protest fears

Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. — A Republican legislator warned Thursday that Kansas risks the same sort of national backlash as Indiana and Arkansas if lawmakers pass a proposal aimed at protecting college religious groups, but a GOP colleague said heeding such concerns would be “catering to the mob.”

The Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee approved a bill designed to give religious groups on state university campuses more control over their membership.

The committee’s debate touched on the criticism lawmakers in the two other states have faced for passing broader religious objections measures described by some business leaders and groups as anti-gay.

Gay rights supporters in Kansas contend its bill, which passed the Senate two weeks ago, would protect campus religious groups from being sanctioned for barring gay and lesbians as members – or limiting membership based on race, ethnicity or national origin.

Backers of the bill say it protects students’ freedoms of association and worship.

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The House committee’s 12-10 vote sending the bill to the House floor signaled a possible wider split among Republicans in Kansas than in Arkansas and Indiana, which are among more than a dozen states where religious objections proposals have been introduced this year.

Republicans hold 18 of the panel’s 23 seats, and six joined four Democrats in voting against the bill.

The Kansas measure is significantly different from new religious objections policies approved by lawmakers in Arkansas and Indiana, which focus on limiting broader government action against individuals, groups and businesses that say they’re acting in line with their religious beliefs.

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