It’s pretty difficult to get your arms (much less your head) around Senate Bill 180, the religious liberty bill.
Richard Nelson of the Commonwealth Policy Center says in a recent commentary that it “is a measure to protect the religious freedom of business owners who are being coerced by the state to service events they find morally objectionable.” He says this is about “protecting the conscience rights of those who believe participating in a same-sex marriage is sacrilegious.”
But that is not what the bill, recently approved by the Senate, says. That is not all this bill would do. The word “event” does not appear in the bill. The bill never mentions “same-sex marriage.”
The bill’s language clearly seeks to override every statute, ordinance or court decision which impairs, impedes, infringes upon, or otherwise restricts the exercise of a person’s right of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to peaceable assembly and other federal or state constitutional rights.
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This goes far beyond Nelson’s description.
Uh-oh. Did we just try to nullify federal civil rights laws; the Kentucky civil rights law; libel, slander and defamation laws; laws requiring permits for parades and marches; tax laws restricting political activities of churches, etc.?
We have had federal and state laws for two centuries that, to some extent, restrict these personal freedoms. And those laws are a part of the fabric of this country, because we all know that my rights end where yours begin.
The constitutionality of those laws is determined by our judicial system and it always involves a balancing of interests. This bill wipes all of that out. There are to be no restrictions on these rights.
What would the world under this bill look like? What if every business owner could refuse goods and services to any customer determined as “morally objectionable?” These “protected activity providers” could refuse service or goods to anyone who offends their conscience or religious belief without any penalty (another provision of SB 180).
Some sincerely held religious beliefs or matters of conscience would deny service or goods to black people (alleged by some to carry the biblical “mark of Cain”), women who cut their hair, Jews, Muslims, gays, lesbians, people who have sex outside of marriage, divorced people, divorced and remarried people, people who eat pork, female ministers, people who drink alcoholic beverages, convicted criminals, adulterers, gossipers, people who curse, unrepentant sinners, people who use contraceptives, women who have had abortions, the self-righteous, liars, those filled with false pride.
Or, any of these reasons could be used as a pretext for refusing to serve those we have protected for 50 years from discrimination based on sex, race, religion, color, national origin and later, age, disability and familial status.
Talk about taking a step backward. This bill would take us one giant leap into chaos, discrimination and division.
I do not for a minute believe all of this was intended by the bill’s sponsors. But this is what the bill says.
Marilyn S. Daniel of Versailles is an ordained elder at Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church.
At issue: March 3 commentary by Richard Nelson, “Article cries wolf about bill that protects rights of the religious”