Kentucky Governor Beshear Vetoes Bill That Would Allow Religious Discrimination

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D), vetoed a controversial “religious-freedom” bill on Friday, which was intended to provide stronger protections of religious freedoms in Kentucky. This sets the bill up for a potential override next week by the Kentucky legislature, which had overwhelming passed the measure in the first place. If the bill’s veto is overridden — which, many fear it will be considering the large number of lawmakers who voted in favor of the measure — years of progress in fighting and overcoming discrimination against minorities, including the LGBT community, could be erased.

The Religious Freedom Act would allow a person with a “sincerely held belief” to discriminate against people that in any way, shape, or form go against their own religious ideals. Examples of using religion to discriminate, according to the ACLU, include graduate students who are training to be social workers refusing to counsel gay individuals and pharmacies or pharmacies refusing to fill birth control prescriptions.  

In a statement, Beshear said that he values religious freedom and understands the good intentions of the lawmakers who passed the bill; however, he fears that the legislation’s ambiguous terminology could have severely adverse effects.

“I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals' civil rights … As written, the bill will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation,” he said.

Beshear had also been under pressure from civil right groups such as ACLU of Kentucky, the Louisville Human Rights Commission and the Kentucky Equality Federation to veto the bill because they also believed that the bill would undoubtedly allow for religious bullying of minorities.

Church groups, on the other hand, such as the Catholic Conference of Kentucky and the Kentucky Baptist Convention, who had been urging Beshear to pass the bill, and now are relying on Kentucky’s other lawmakers to override the governor’s veto, say that Kentucky should be allowed to join several other states that also provide similar protections for religious people.

And while the spokesman for one of the bill’s supporters, The Family Foundation, has said that he hopes Kentucky’s lawmakers will right the governor’s wrongs by overriding the veto, the ACLU of Kentucky’s executive director has urged the legislature to allow the governor’s veto to stand, saying, "This would allow lawmakers another year to reach a compromise that would ensure the proper balance between individuals' religious freedom and others' civil rights protections."

Beshear’s concerns over the public safety problems that are inevitably going to arise from such a vague and counterproductive bill are also not unfounded. The point of the bill seems to be allowing and encouraging discrimination behind the veil of “religious freedom.” And if the Kentucky legislature decides to overturn his veto, religious bullying would be the only outcome that could follow.