Frankfort, Kentucky — Lawmakers in the state of Kentucky have voted to override Democratic Governor Steve Beshear’s veto of a religious freedom bill that passed in the legislature last week.
As previously reported, Beshear rejected The Religious Freedom Act last Friday, releasing a statement to explain his decision.
“I value and cherish our rights to religious freedom and I appreciate the good intentions of House Bill 279 and the members of the General Assembly who supported this bill to protect our constitutional rights to practice our religion,” he wrote. “However, I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals’ civil rights.”
“As written, the bill will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation,” he continued. “I have heard from many organizations and government entities that share those same concerns. Therefore, after giving this measure thoughtful analysis and consideration, today I vetoed the bill.”
The legislation, HB279, created a provision for people of faith to be exempted from certain laws if they conflicted with their religious beliefs.
Beshear had reportedly been under significant pressure from homosexual groups, as well as other social justice organizations, to reject the legislation because it could undo the state’s anti-discrimination law as it relates to the treatment of minorities. They also contended that certain individuals could be denied contraceptives or other abortifacients due to the the religious convictions of business owners and/or their employees.
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights was one of a number of outspoken opponents of the bill.
“[The] legislation could be used by an individual or entity under the guise of a ‘sincerely held religious belief’ to violate the constitutional and civil rights of other persons or organizations,” the Commission wrote in an official statement just days before the bill’s passage. “In other words, it could make discrimination legal if the discrimination perpetrated is claimed to be due to ‘a sincerely held religious belief.’”
The bill originated as a response to the abortion pill mandate in Obamacare, and served as a way to protect the right of conscience, but is believed to have developed into a much broader statement.
“If it does become law, Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Act could enable discrimination against more than just women seeking birth control,” explained writer Stephen C. Webster. “Civil rights advocates worry that landlords and employers could also use the law to justify discriminating against LGBT people and minorities as well, all in the name of ‘religious freedom.’”
Catholics for Fairness, the Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Lexington Fair Housing Council, Kentucky Feminists United and Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers were among the groups that had urged Beshear to veto the bill.
However, the legislation received tremendous support in both House and Senate as the Democratic-controlled House voted 82-7 in favor of the bill. The state Assembly likewise overwhelmingly approved of the measure.
Therefore, following last week’s veto, legislators this week voted to override Beshear’s rejection of the bill, making The Religious Freedom Act the law of the state. The House voted 79-15 in favor, and the Senate followed with a 32-6 vote.
A few legislators still held out against the measure, stating that it was unnecessary.
“This is a piece of legislation looking for a reason,” Democratic Representative Darryl Owens told USA Today.
But Republican Representative Stan Lee disagreed, noting, “It wasn’t so long ago we had prayer in the schools, but they made us take it out.”
The law will now protect residents with “sincerely held religious beliefs” unless there is a “significant government interest” that can be defended in court.