Essentially codifying hate speech, Kentucky Governor Mike Bevin signed into law on Monday a bill that gives individuals, including students, license to make hateful statements about someone based on their “religious or political viewpoints.”
Passed under the guise of bolstering “religious freedom in public schools,” SB17 claims to “protect rights of individual students to express their religious views without fear of punishment,” as the conservative Liberty Counsel wrote in a statement hailing the move.
But, in reality, the law “protects students who espouse homophobic religious viewpoints in school,” as UK-based LGBTQ website Pink News put it on Monday. Further, it “is overtly designed to allow the use of the Bible in classrooms as an educational text—such as in literature or history courses,” noted Salon columnist Nico Lang.
What’s more, the law undermines the inclusive “all comers” policies at public colleges, universities, and high schools, which prevent student organizations receiving financial and other support from the institution from discriminating against students based on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. That policy was upheld by the 2010 Supreme Court decision Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.
“Gov. Bevin’s shameful decision to sign this discriminatory bill into law jeopardizes non-discrimination policies at public high schools, colleges, and universities,” said Human Rights Council legal director Sarah Warbelow in a statement Monday. “No student should fear being excluded from a school club or participating in a school activity because they are LGBTQ. While of course private groups should have the freedom to express religious viewpoints, they should not be able to unfairly discriminate with taxpayer funds.”
The bill was born out of conservative uproar over a Kentucky elementary school’s decision to cut a Bible verse from its 2015 production of “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas.”
As Lang wrote last week:
The following year, legislation often referred to locally as the “Charlie Brown bill” was first was introduced to the General Assembly. In pushing the legislation, Kentucky state Senator Albert Robinson warned that action is necessary to prevent God-fearing Christians in the Bluegrass State from being discriminated against. During a discussion of the bill, he claimed that followers of Jesus Christ “have been persecuted.” About the controversy over the “Charlie Brown” play, Robinson added that Christians would have been “prosecuted if we didn’t keep our mouths shut.”
Robinson further claimed that while Christians are silenced, the free speech rights of Muslims are protected. Muslims “can freely express” their beliefs, he said. “They have that Constitutional right.”
Bottom line, as Jenny Pizer, the law and policy director for Lambda Legal, explained to Lang, SB17 was a “pro-discrimination bill being presented as an anti-discrimination bill.”
It was “designed to facilitate discrimination against LGBT people,” Pizer added.
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