ACLU: “Churchgoers will use HB 279 to get out of parking tickets.”

According to an article which appears on the Lexington Herald-Leader website, opponents of the Religious Freedom Act (HB 279) are putting forth a variety of arguments in attempt to derail the legislation, which has already cleared the House and Senate and now awaits Gov. Steve Beshear’s signature.  Among the more outlandish arguments:

  • Derek Selznick of the ACLU told a House committee that churchgoers could claim parking tickets burden their ability to attend services.
  • Rep. Mary Lou Marzian D-Louisville said that Roman Catholic organizations support the bill because, “it is an attempt to further cover up their continuing sex abuse and pedophilia and hide their records.”

But are the predictions warranted? Are Christians and other people of faith using similar laws in other states to trample the civil rights of others and/or park illegally?

Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Virginia Law School, said their fears are unsupported.

“The reality is these RFRA laws have been a disappointment to their supporters,” he said.

Christopher Lund, a law professor at Michigan’s Wayne State University, examined all 16 state religious freedom laws in 2010 for the South Dakota Law Review. He found that 10 states had only one or two reported RFRA cases. Four states hadn’t seen one case decided under the law.

Victories were even scarcer, he wrote. The people who claimed infringement lost their court battles in more than half of the state cases.

So, what exactly is HB 279 about?

The bill restores the “compelling interest/least restrictive means” as a legal test the government must pass before restricting religious freedom, bringing Kentucky in line with federal judicial standards. Click here to read the bill’s language.

Last Oct. 25, the Kentucky Supreme Court changed the state judicial standard when dealing with religious freedom cases to the “rational basis,” which means government just needs “a reason” to infringe on someone’s religious freedom.

If HB 279 is signed into law, The “compelling interest/least restrictive means” test would be re-established and would mean that the government once again would need to demonstrate a compelling interest to restrict religious freedom, and even then it could only use the least restrictive means to accomplish its compelling interest.

Since the bill’s passage, the American Civil Liberties Union and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) opponents of the bill have been urging Gov. Beshear to veto the bill. Vetoing the bill would keep Kentucky out of step with federal courts, which have used the “compelling interest/least restrictive means” test since the 1930s. In 1990, the U.S Supreme Court did the same thing as our Kentucky Supreme Court when it chose the “rational basis” test. Congress corrected the federal court with the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. Our General Assembly is trying to do the same thing now.

What can you do to help?

Call Gov. Beshear’s office at (502) 564-2611 and urge him to sign the Religious Freedom Act (HB 279) into law.

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