Kansans oppose proposed “Preservation of Religious Freedom” act

By Nikki Wentling

The Kansas House will debate bill 2260, the “Preservation of Religious Freedom” act. The measure says that the government cannot burden someone by compelling him or her to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs. Members of the Kansas Equality Coalition said the bill is a ploy to nullify the Lawrence ordinance that prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Last week, a Kansas legislative committee passed house bill 2260, the “Preservation of Religious Freedoms” act, which  prevents the government from compelling anyone to do something against his or her religious beliefs. Advocates of the bill have used a recent dispute about the U.S. government requiring religious institutions to include contraceptives in their employees’ health care plans to gain support for the act.

Although the bill has been in process since Sept. 2009 and was not created in response to this national controversy, Representatives Jan Pauls (D-Hutchinson) and Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe) have used the contraceptive conflict as an example of what the act could prevent. However, critics say this bill will allow people to use religion as a defense to discriminate and will strip Kansans of their basic rights.

“The whole thing is convincing people into believing that this is something that promotes religious freedom, when it is something that takes away human dignity and civil rights,” said Stephanie Mott, Director of the Kansas Equality Coalition.

If this bill were to be implemented, individuals could discriminate against others in employment, access to public accommodations and in housing unless specifically prohibited in the Kansas Act Against Discrimination. This act prevents discrimination pertaining to race, religion, color, sex, disability and ancestry. However, it does not prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — something Lawrence has chosen to protect. Members of the KEC say this bill directly attacks the Lawrence ordinance.

“Lawrence is the only place within Kansas that actually has protections for the LGTB community and that this bill is targeting specifically Lawrence,” said Scott Criqui, Vice Chair of the KEC of Lawrence.

The Kansas Catholic Conference supports the bill, as do Gov. Sam Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer. In his testimony, Colyer said it was needed because President Barack Obama was “attacking religious rights“. However, some think the bill is not representative of what Kansans believe. Sandra Vu, a Catholic student from Wichita, says she thinks no one should be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It’s like telling them that you can’t hire them because they’re black or something,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think being gay would really affect a person and their job.”

The bill has been delayed by the House, and will be debated at an unknown date.

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