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You are here News Politics Wave of new state bills: Religious freedom or license to discriminate?

Wave of new state bills: Religious freedom or license to discriminate?

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Religious freedom?If a bill approved by the Kansas House Committee on Federal and State Affairs Thursday becomes law, businesses and government employees could legally refuse service to citizens because of their sexual orientation or marital status, claiming it violates their religious beliefs.

HB 2453, if passed, would permit “any individual or religious entity” to claim an exemption, based on religious views, from providing nearly any kind of services, and to be relieved from “treat(ing) any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union, or similar arrangement as valid.” Although the bill would require government agencies to make another employee available to provide the service if one employee objects, opponents of the bill say that arrangement could prove unworkable in small locales.

The Kansas measure is an extreme permutation of a wave of new bills in state legislatures that purport to bolster religious freedom, but that opponents say constitute a troubling new trend to craft a license to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital or family status. The state efforts are apparently connected to a network with the Christian advocacy group Focus on the Family at its core.

“We are really seeing this dovetailing with LGBT people across the country gaining greater rights,” said Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes these bills. “We are now seeing this reaction where people are claiming based on religious belief that there should be special authorization to break laws or have new rights.”

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