Politics & Government

House gives final passage to bill on students’ rights to express religious views

Herald-Leader Staff Report

The Kentucky House gave final passage to a bill Monday that would give students the freedom to express their religious or political views in public schools and universities.

Senate Bill 17, sponsored by State Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, would affirm the constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom, supporters of the bill argued.

“All this legislation does is put into law and recognize those constitutional facts,” said Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington.

But the bill garnered opposition from some members of the Democratic party, who feared unintended consequences. State Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville, argued that the bill could lead to lawsuits from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, while State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, argued that the consequences could be greater than the support the bill provides.

“I think we need to be really cautious about this,” Wayne said. “… because in some areas it may be OK for a student to call a gay student a sinner based on religious beliefs.”

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights organization, agreed with Wayne and called on Gov. Matt Bevin to veto the bill.

“This discriminatory legislation goes beyond protecting students’ already secured First Amendment rights and would allow, in part, student groups, at colleges, universities and high schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students and still receive public funding,” said Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign.

House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said discrimination was not the intent of the bill, and that he didn’t think the bill would allow for groups to discriminate against LGBT students.

Others argued that the bill was important for protecting a student’s rights of free speech.

State Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, said he told his college-aged daughters to learn the political leaning of their professors and write their papers tailored to those beliefs, not to their conservative values.

“Apparently, everyone else has First Amendment rights of the freedom of speech, freedom of religion unless you’re talking about Christianity,” Blanton said.

The majority of the House of Representatives supported the bill — it passed 81-8.