Scope Of Religious Exemptions Under Debate In Kansas

Kansas legislators are considering a bill that critics say would grant sweeping new powers to religious groups and individuals to discriminate against others in the name of religious freedom.

HB 2260 is designed to nullify an ordinance passed in Lawrence, Kan., that offers broader protections against discrimination than state laws.

The bill, which has been backed by Gov. Sam Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Coyler, says government can’t override religious rights unless it can show that religious exercise must be restricted to advance a compelling government interest. The measure would even let individuals sue the government if their exercise of religion “has been burdened, or is likely to be burdened.

Critics believe the bill’s supporters are trying to find ways to legalize discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.

During a Feb. 14 hearing, Vickie Sandell Stangl, president of the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United, testified that religious freedom shouldn’t be expanded at the expense of civil rights.

“If this bill were enacted, its provisions could be used to deny Kansas citizens access to critical health care and safety services,” she said.

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