(Updated. See note at bottom.)
A Kentucky Senate committee has passed a bill that would allow store owners and other providers of services to refuse to serve interracial couples, interracial families, or couples of different faiths. In addition, the bill would prevent the refused couples from seeking redress through the courts.
Titled, apparently without any sense of irony, “an act relating to the protection of rights,” SB 180 creates a state-wide group of “protected activities” and “protected activity providers,” then proceeds to cover those so protected with immunity from any laws by any governmental body anywhere, and states that people so covered cannot be fined or charged with any crime.
Who are these persons so protected, and what are the activities so protected? Let’s look at the precise and clear language provided by the bill:
“Protected activities” means actions by people commissioned, employed, hired, retained, or otherwise used by the public or the government to provide customized, artistic, expressive, creative, ministerial, or spiritual goods or services, or judgments, attestations, or other commissions that involve protected rights;
“Protected activity provider” means a person who provides protected activities; and
“Protected rights” means the rights of persons to be free from governmental actions that impair, impede, infringe upon, or otherwise restrict the exercise of any right guaranteed by the United States Constitution or the Constitution of Kentucky, including but not limited to a person’s right of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and right to peaceable assembly.
So, if you are hired to provide “customized, artistic, expressive, creative, ministerial, or spiritual goods or services, or judgments, attestations, or other commissions,” then you are protected!
Custom jewelry? Protected. Juggling acts? Protected. Blogging? Protected. (Cool!) Artists and musicians? Good to go. “Expressive goods or services”? I have no idea what they are, but those are protected too. All ministers, no matter what they say or do? Protected.
Poorly Written, Discriminatory, and Dangerous
What is the point of this, the worst-written bill in the history of legislation? To allow persons to refuse service to anyone, at any time, as long as they can say that the persons requesting the services offend their religious beliefs.
And if you think this is only about some Christians refusing to sell to Teh Gay, guess what – this bill makes possible exactly what we led with: refusing service to interracial, interfaith, atheistic, Muslim, divorced, or pretty much any other kind of people.
Think we’re exaggerating? It took only ten minutes with The Google to find churches in Kentucky who oppose interracial marriage. Think their members would like to be able to refuse service to interracial couples?
How about refusing service to Muslims? Or people who look like Muslims? Or people who just look different, because who knows, they might be Muslims? Or refusing to fill a prescription for an anti-depressant, because my religion teaches there is no such thing as depression? Or refusing to sell a house to an atheist?
This bill is a disaster, both in its language and its intent. And, it is a dangerous bill. I have written a longer piece about this use of “religious freedom” on my personal blog, so I will just quote one section:
In this case, though, the argument is not about one person’s practice of their faith. It is about that person’s understanding of right and wrong causing harm to another person.
And now we come to why this is not only wrong, but dangerous. This use of the “religious freedom” argument is so blatantly illogical and prejudiced that it makes reasonable people just throw up their hands. As it spreads and is not called out by the so-called religious leaders across the country (and indeed is cheered on by some of them), it causes non-religious people to assume that religious people are not only incapable of serious thought, but are actually dangerous to society.
Senators, please pull this bill. It is a bad bill that promotes discrimination, that will damage our state, and in the end will actually be dangerous to the very people you are trying to protect. Kill SB 180.
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Update: I have changed the headline on the story, as I came to agree with others that it was misleading. The Senate did not pass the actual bill (yet); it only passed in committee.
But, the rest of the story stands. This bill is both so broad and so poorly written that it could absolutely lead to the kind of discrimination that I hope the sponsors never intended.
If you believe that this sort of discrimination in the name of so-called religion is wrong, contact your legislators.