Kansas Senate approves bill allowing campus religious groups to discriminate

Kansas state capitol in Topeka. JOHN HANNA [ap]

Kansas state capitol in Topeka.

Kansas state capitol in Topeka.

TOPEKA, Kan. — A proposal in Kansas for protecting religious groups on public college campuses that want to restrict memberships to like-minded believers is advancing in the Republican-dominated Legislature, and a leading gay-rights advocate calls it “a license to discriminate.”

The state Senate approved the measure Thursday on a 30-8 vote, sending it to the House. Supporters say it allows groups to require members to adhere to common, sincerely held beliefs without having to take in non-believers.

The easy progress of this year’s bill contrasts with the rocky path for another measure pursued by some religious groups and lawmakers last year. The bill last year was designed to allow individuals, groups and businesses to refuse for religious reasons to participate in same-sex marriages, but critics said it allowed widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians, even by public officials. It passed the House but died in the Senate.

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The bill this year would prevent state universities, community colleges and technical colleges from refusing to recognize or denying campus resources to religious groups that limit their memberships. Even supporters acknowledged the bill would require campuses to recognize and provide resources to religious groups that reject gays and lesbians as members.

“We’re talking about the ability of a group to define itself and to adhere to its own message,” Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican, said during the chamber’s debate.

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, called the measure “offensive,” and Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, deemed it “insane.”

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