Protesters say bill would allow discrimination against gays, lesbians
Topeka ? About 70 people on Thursday protested legislation that they said would allow people to cite religious beliefs to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
“It’s legislative abuse, it’s legislative bullying, it’s legislative dictatorship and it should not be permitted,” said civil rights attorney Pedro Irigonegaray.
Senate Bill 142 is called the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. Supporters say it is needed to prevent government from forcing a person to violate their religious beliefs. It was approved last month by the House on a 91-33 vote and is pending before the Senate.
Opponents of the bill say it will invite discrimination and invalidate a Lawrence anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation.
“The city of Lawrence stands as a shining example that we can do better,” Irigonegaray said.
The rally was put together by the Kansas Equality Coalition. Thomas Witt, executive director of the coalition, urged those at the rally to get involved in the August primaries to help candidates who oppose such proposals.
C.J. Brune of Lawrence attended the rally, and said, “I can’t imagine living in a worse world where someone’s religion would impact my rights.”
Taylor Harris of Hutchinson said, “They’re trying to make it legal to discriminate.”
Holly Weatherford, with the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, said, “We cannot allow the use of religion to discriminate and call it religious freedom. We must push back.”
The bill would prohibit state and local governments from substantially burdening a person’s religious beliefs unless the government can prove that the burden is advancing a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive way of advancing that interest.
The measure is supported by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration, the Kansas Catholic Conference and Concerned Women for America of Kansas. It was opposed by Lawrence officials, the Kansas Equality Coalition and the state chapter of the National Organization for Women.