Kentucky House, Senate Vote to Override Veto of HB 279

Tonight, the Kentucky House voted 79-14  and Senate voted 32-6  to override Gov. Steve Beshear’s veto of the Religious Freedom Bill (HB 279). The bill is now law.

The text of the law:

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A “burden” shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.

The law 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.

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.

By making HB 279 a law, the “compelling interest/least restrictive means” test has been re-established and the government once again must prove it has a compelling interest to restrict religious freedom, and even then it can only use the least restrictive means to accomplish its compelling interest.

Passing the bill into law puts Kentucky in 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, the same thing the Kentucky General Assembly has now done with HB279.

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