Kansas Bill Protects Religious Intolerance
Kansas' "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act" will protect discrimination based upon religious beliefs. Currently Kansas prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry or familial status. The Kansas cities of Salina, Wichita, Hutchinson, and Pittsburg discussed adding the classes of sexual orientation and gender identity to their local anti-discrimination ordinances. The Kansas House of Representatives responded by introducing the "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act" to block cities from expanding their anti-discrimination laws. The bill passed the House on Thursday, March 29th, by a vote of 91-33. It is now being considered by the Senate as Senate Bill No. 142.
Protection of discrimination masked as a protection of religion is a dangerous expansion of an individual liberty into a justification for intolerance. The constitutional right to Free Exercise of religion is not unlimited. The freedom to believe is absolute, but the freedom to act on those beliefs is not. There is already a system in place for determining when Free Exercise rights are unconstitutionally restricted by the government. When an anti-discrimination law restricts an individual's Free Exercise of religion, courts compare the importance of the preventing that discrimination against the burden on the individual. The government cannot substantially burden a sincerely held religious belief unless they have a "compelling government interest." This test is used by courts around the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Kansas House of Representatives twists this balanced approach into an unfair fight by stating discrimination against a class not already protected is NEVER a compelling government interest. Therefore, even if a city determines an unfair bias against select individuals is important enough to the welfare of its citizens to be considered a "compelling government interest," this law restrains the city government from taking action. This doesn't protect religion, it protects discrimination.
Authorizing an individual to discriminate against others based upon a quality for which he cannot be discriminated against shocks the conscience. This bill will protect the right of a Christian to refuse to rent to a gay couple only because they are gay, when it is illegal for a gay couple to refuse to rent to a Christian because he's Christian. This bill will allow landlords to use religion to refuse to rent to anyone for any reason not currently protected: unwed couples, single mothers, LGBT individuals and couples, the list continues indefinitely.
This is not to say that every characteristic of a potential renter's identity should be off limits as a reason for exclusion. But the identities and prejudices of our communities are evolving. If a local government deems the protection of a class of individuals is instrumental to the public welfare, it should be able to provide those protections. The use of religion as a shield to defend discriminatory activities should be concerning for every American, but especially to those in the nontheistic community familiar with discrimination under the guise of freedom of religion.
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