Sunday, December 21, 2014

Kansas is better than bill legalizing discrimination


Businesses often avoid getting involved in political strife unless a law or decision is expected to have a direct and/or immediate impact on their well-being. That was the case last week when the Kansas House approved a new piece of legislation, House Bill 2453, by a 72-49 vote. Franklin County representatives were split on the vote. State Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, voted to pass the bill, while state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, voted against the measure.

The bill essentially would not only enable but encourage businesses to discriminate against people whose religious beliefs didn’t match up with their own. Though that wasn’t the stated purpose of the bill, as presented by state Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Shawnee, it certainly legalizes discrimination and can’t be tolerated in this state.

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, establishment and free exercise of religion, freedom of the press and even the right to peaceably assemble. Federal laws trump state laws, so why someone thought this was a good idea is a mystery. It appears to be a contest to prove who best is serving the religious right’s perspective rather than furthering the business interests or religious freedoms that supposedly were intended for protection.

The bill was modeled after one developed by American Religious Freedom Program based in Washington, D.C., and that group’s legislative director testified for the bill, according to a report in the Kansas City Star. This religious fanaticism in legislative form could stop legal action against people and businesses — ranging from bakeries to florists to photographers and even public safety employees — who refuse to provide services relating to same-sex civil unions that go against their religions. The bill is not solving any known problems in Kansas.

It is ridiculous for legislators to blindly pass a bill — presumably because those folks in Washington are smarter than us and said it would be a good idea — when our state has real challenges that need to be addressed. At this rate, the state needs to hire more attorneys and prepare for the legal challenges to come.

No religious liberties are being trampled on in Kansas. This state doesn’t need more laws to encourage people to discriminate against their friends, neighbors and coworkers. This law, if passed, would allow Kansans to refuse service to those whose lifestyle — aka same-sex couples — doesn’t agree with their religious beliefs. Kansans are friendly, honest, hardworking and compassionate people. Kansans voted not to discriminate when it came to slavery, and there’s no evidence to believe that the majority of Kansans want to reverse their accepting mindset and roll back the clock to discriminate against one group of people who have done nothing to violate other Kansans’ religious liberties.

Fortunately, a number of Kansas businesses, including AT&T, KCP&L and others said they opposed the bill as anti-business toward customers and impossible to implement with employees. Business is difficult enough to conduct without the government trying to add a layer of complexity, emboldening employees to take a stand against specific customers. The language of House Bill 2453 is broad enough to make one wonder how lawmakers didn’t see that problem for themselves.

For the time being, it appears the bill won’t move on to the Senate because of the broad opposition to it. Senate Leader Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the scope was broader than anticipated, and the legislation would harm business, so she canceled its appearance before the Senate. Kansans will have to keep an eye on this initiative to ensure it doesn’t re-emerge in a slightly modified and disguised form once the national attention dies down.

The boogeymen still are out there, but they aren’t same-sex couples.


— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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