[box] UPDATE: After this story was posted, on Tuesday, March 26, the Kentucky Legislature voted to overturn the governor’s veto by a vote of 79-15 in the House and 32-6 in the Senate. The bill restores the “compelling state interest” standard that was in place before recent rulings by the U.S. and Kentucky supreme courts reduced it to a “rational basis” standard.[/box]
On Friday, March 22, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) vetoed HB 279 claiming that the religious freedom legislation would “cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals’ civil rights.”
HB 279, which passed both houses via “veto-proof” bipartisan votes on March 11, 2013, would require the courts to apply “strict
scrutiny” to attempts to force individuals with sincere religious convictions to follow laws that burdened their religious freedom.
HB 279 was introduced by Rep. Bob Damron (D) after the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the criminal convictions of 10 Amish members of a particular sect who refused, on grounds of religious modesty, to display orange triangles on the backs of horse-drawn buggies traveling public roads. The state had argued safety was a “rational basis” for the law, and that requiring the triangles was the “least restrictive means” of accomplishing this goal. Soon after, the legislature passed interim legislation allowing the Amish to use mutually acceptable reflective tape.
Some civil rights groups including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU, LGBT groups and others argued that the legislation would allow religious people to discriminate against people that they disagreed with, or allow pharmacists to refrain from dispensing contraceptives. In reality, the bill would restore the religious liberty standard in place prior to the decision involving the Amish group last October.
As written, HB 279 would permit an individual to deviate from any state or local law that places a substantial burden on his or her sincerely held religious belief. The government would need to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the government had a compelling interest in requiring compliance with the established law and that there was no less restrictive means to accomplish the government’s objective.
A majority vote in each house of the legislature would be sufficient to override the veto.
For more information on HB 279:
Michael Peabody – “Kentucky Legislature Passes Religious Freedom Measure,” ReligiousLiberty.TV, March 19, 2013.