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Civil rights groups urge Ky. governor to veto religious freedoms bill

Civil rights groups urge Ky. governor to veto religious freedoms bill

FRANKFORT, Ky. — LGBT advocates and civil rights groups have joined with the American Civil Liberities Union (ACLU) in calling on Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to veto a religious freedom bill approved in the state Senate last week.

Critics charge that the bill (HB 279) would be used to discriminate against the state’s LGBT community and other minorities.

Among their claims: Landlords could turn away gay or biracial couples. Women could lose access to birth control. Abusive priests could try to elude investigations. Churchgoers could challenge parking tickets.

According to the measure, “[The] government shall not burden a person’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion,” while protecting “the right to act or refuse to act on religious grounds.”

“This is a piece of legislation that is a sword to be used against minorities,” state Sen. Kathy Stein (D-Lexington), said before the Senate vote.

“House Bill 279 does nothing more than give people permission to discriminate based on their religious beliefs, thereby taking it beyond ‘freedom of religion’ to ‘forced religion,’ because they have imposed their religious beliefs on others, with legal authority to do so,” said the Kentucky Equality Federation, in a letter to Beshear urging him to veto the measure.

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“If the Senate chooses to keep the bill’s current language, and not amend it to include specific protections for civil rights laws, a religious individual could claim an exemption from any law or policy that prohibits discrimination — leaving racial minorities, women, LGBT people and others without adequate protections,” charged the ACLU, in a statement Monday.

The Senate voted 29-6 to approve the bill and send it to Beshear for consideration.

Beshear, a Democrat, has not indicated whether or not he supports the measure; he can sign the bill into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

“Both the Kentucky and U.S. constitutions provide for freedom of religion. Once we get it, we will review it and make some determination,” Beshear said, in a statement late Friday.

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