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SPOTLIGHT
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Religious liberty, II

Published on -2/16/2014, 1:51 PM

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If a black man went into a Hays restaurant and was refused service because of his skin tone, most people would recognize an illegal act had been committed. The same if a white woman was denied the opportunity to register at Fort Hays State University because she was female.

The local energy company is prohibited from telling a Hispanic couple they can't have power at their house because of their ethnicity. The municipality cannot refuse to pick up garbage at a widow's residence simply because she's old. And it's been a long time since any company in town told a non-Catholic to take their business elsewhere.

We could go on, but you get the point. Laws prevent both public and private sectors from discriminating because of race, gender, ethnic origin, age and religion.

Take any of those examples, however, and insert gay or lesbian -- and suddenly there are 72 members of the Kansas House of Representatives fighting to make that not only acceptable, but legal, as long as one's objection was based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

We're sure to Gov. Sam Brownback's dismay, the other side of the Statehouse was not so easily led by the nose of non-existent threats to anybody's faith-based sensibilities. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, promised Friday House Bill 2453 would not pass in its current form.

"I believe the intent of the House was to protect religious liberties," Wagle said. "We respect that, but the business implications are going to harm the practice of employment in Kansas."

We expected the uproar that was heard around the country, but were pleasantly surprised the in-state protests actually were noticed and paid heed in Topeka.

Even House Speaker Ray Merrick, who voted for the legislation, was speaking a different tune Friday afternoon. The Republican from Stilwell suggested the House couldn't pass the same bill now that lawmakers had heard from constituents.

That doesn't say much for deeply held convictions about religion freedoms being assaulted. Amongst the 72 House members who voted yes Wednesday were area legislators Reps. Sue Boldra, R-Hays; Travis Couture-Lovelady, R-Palco; Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, and John Ewy, R-Jetmore.

Couture-Lovelady described his vote thusly: "One of the founding principles of our country, inscribed in the First Amendment, is the right of the people to be led by their conscience and follow their own deeply held religious convictions without fear of penalty or reprisal."

Voting to reject such blatant discrimination were Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Luray, and Don Hineman, R-Dighton.

Hineman offered: "My closely held religious belief is that God is love. I cannot vote yes for this bill if I am to heed the words of Christ when he said, 'Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.' "

Amen.

At least one of the local yes votes took to social media to explain a change of heart. Boldra wrote on Facebook she had indeed changed her mind since Wednesday's roll call vote. The college-level civics instructor said she "did not see the discrimination element" and that "the legal experts assured us that this was a narrowly defined bill and not discriminatory nor targeted." While blaming the press for distorting the intent, she did apologize for offending "any and all of my friends."

We're not sure how Boldra and the others could have missed the discrimination element in the two-and-a-half-page bill. Or how the pleadings and offers of assistance from the Equality Kansas group during House testimony didn't give anybody the heads up.

Perhaps instead of worrying about non-existent threats to religious freedoms, the Kansas Legislature should amend the state's nondiscrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It's obvious these Kansans face real threats when lawmakers do it without even recognizing it.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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