We’re really perplexed by a piece of legislation sitting on Gov. Steve Beshear’s desk, awaiting his signature to become law in Kentucky.
House Bill 279, on the surface, seems like something it would be easy to stand behind. It essentially prohibits the government from placing a burden on someone’s religious belief. If we’re reading this correctly, no man-made laws can trump the rules of one’s religion, if those laws place a substantial burden on that religious belief.
At what point does a law place a substantial burden on one’s religion? What does HB 279 really entitle people to do? Nothing in the language of the bill defines this burden, and leaves it to the government to determine whether or not there is an interest in infringing someone’s right to act, or not to act, based on their sincere religious beliefs.
This law is not only vague, but it’s simply not needed. Freedom of religion is an important ideal fundamental to our nation and democracy, and something already protected by the U.S. Constitution. It’s unnecessary, and its critics are correct in assuming that it will be used as a basis for challenging laws already on the books, including fairness ordinances prohibiting certain types of discrimination.
Proponents of this bill cite as a reason to back it the fact that 16 other states have similar religious freedom laws to “protect” their citizens. However, those laws were hardly ever used as a defense in court cases, and in almost every case where they were cited by the defense, the state has won.
Despite its fast track through the legislature, this seems to be a bill that simply reiterates the protections already granted to us by the Bill of Rights, and, at this point, seems like just a soapbox for Kentucky legislators to stand on so they will seem a more attractive candidate in a race for a future state political seat.
It is a bit shocking that House Speaker Greg Stumbo could say one of the reasons he would not let Senate Bill 50, a bill that would let the state regulate hemp if the federal ban were ever to be lifted, be voted on because there is already legislation on the books that says the same thing, yet he made sure to add his name to the list of co-sponsors for HB 279.
Gov. Beshear would be wise to keep looking into this bill, as he said he will do before he decides to sign it or not. Maybe in his research he’ll come across something called the First Amendment and realize just how frivolous this bill really is.
— The Hazard Herald