Kansas House approves controversial bill to strengthen First Amendment rights

[JURIST] The Kansas House of Representatives [official website] approved a bill [HB 2384; PDF] Wednesday that prohibits a governing body from passing a law that would infringe on an individual's right to religion, which some suggest is a guise to discriminate against same-sex couples. The bill is commonly known as Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act and passed the house by a vote of 89-27 [Kansas City Star report]. It focuses on a Kansas citizen's First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] rights and states that in exercising free religion a person has the "right to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely-held religious tenant or belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central requirement of the person's religious tenants or beliefs." The bill goes on to afford a person whose right has been burdened—or will likely be burdened—to assert such violation as a claim or defense in a court of law. The main controversy surrounding the bill concerns its effect on anti-discrimination laws and policies. Supporters say the bill will not prevent local governing bodies to add classes of individuals to anti-discrimination policies, but it would enable a defense for those who felt their freedoms of speech or religion were in question. Opponents of the bill say it is a way to discriminate, specifically against same-sex couples, while claiming freedom of religion as an excuse. They suggest that the bill will prevent municipalities from establishing protections [Think Progress report] based on sexual orientation while simultaneously giving others the right to discriminate. Some supporters admit it would be difficult to add a class of individuals to anti-discrimination policies. The bill will now be sent to the Senate, but whether or not it will pass the Senate is unclear.

Protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals remains a political issue that many are deeply divided on. In November, Massachusetts passed an anti-discrimination bill [JURIST report] that would protect people in the areas of housing and the workplace. Connecticut passed similar legislation [JURIST report] in June, defining "gender identity or expression" and providing protection in the state's existing anti-discrimination laws. Other national action includes measures to stop hate crimes against LGBT individuals. In March, US Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) [official websites] introduced legislation to protect LGBT students from bullying [JURIST report] in federally funded public elementary and high schools.

 

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