Kentucky Lawmaker Defends Bill Allowing Religious Discrimination by Citing Examples of Christians Not Always Getting Their Way

Last month, lawmakers in Kentucky proposed a billHouse Bill 279 — that would allow discrimination in the workplace, housing, or even public facilities if the justification involved “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Gays, lesbians, atheists, Muslims, and pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian had good reason to fear this bill.

On March 22nd, Gov. Steve Beshear did the right thing and vetoed the bill (PDF):

As written, the measure calls into question the scope and efficacy of many laws regarding public health and safety as well as individual civil rights… Our businesses, our local governments, our citizens and our religious organizations should not be burdened with the potential consequences associated with this well intended but ultimately flawed legislation.

Unfortunately, the Kentucky House and Senate had the numbers to override the veto:

The House’s 79-15 vote sent House Bill 279 to the Senate, which voted 32-6 to override the measure.

The one-paragraph bill that stirred strong emotions now will become law in 90 days.

During the debates on the House and Senate floors, opponents of the bill argued that religious freedom is not under attack.

“There are no efforts being made by anyone to take away anybody’s religious freedom,” said Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville. “… This is a piece of legislation looking for a reason because there is no reason for it, other than what I perceive to be pandering to a certain segment of this community.”

Which brings us to yesterday. Republican Rep. Stan Lee wrote a letter to the Lexington Herald-Leader to counter the charge that this bill was all about “pandering” and cowardice. There are so many false statements and exaggerated claims in the piece, you would think Lee was trying to get hired at FOX News Channel. My own commentary is in red:

Rep. Stan Lee

According to the paper, the Religious Freedom Bill, House Bill 279, passed because of political cowardice and pandering.

“Cowardice,” is often defined as the act of a soldier running away from battle during war. But what war? Could it be a war on Christianity? Now I know your response will be that there is no attack on religious freedoms. Indeed, you will deny the very existence of such a war. Yet, tell that to the owners of Hands On Originals or Chik-fil-A, who were vehemently attacked by government officials and agencies for expressing their personal religious beliefs (Hands On Originals refused to do business with the organizers of a gay pride parade because the owners are Christian while Chick-fil-A is, well, Chick-fil-A. Neither business was shut down; they were only criticized for their bigotry.). Tell that to the high school coach who gets sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for offering a prayer of protection before a ballgame (Public school coaches can’t lead students in Christian prayer, well-intentioned or not.). Tell that to the teacher who gets sued for saying, “Happy Thanksgiving,” “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter.” (When the hell has that ever happened?! If it did, then sue me, because I said “Merry Christmas,” among other things, to my students before they left for winter break.) Tell that to the valedictorian who gets enjoined from mentioning God in her graduation speech (No one will raise a big fuss over a brief mention of God, but students cannot proselytize when giving a graduation speech.). Tell that to the county judge-executive who gets sued for posting the Ten Commandments (That’s because it’s illegal. Don’t post Christian commandments in the courthouse. Post them in your personal office.). Tell that to the student who tries to pray or read her Bible during school (Neither of those things are a problem as long as they are not disruptive and the ACLU would defend their right to do both.). Tell that to the citizens whose governor decided the State Capitol needed a “holiday tree” as opposed to a Christmas Tree (OH NO! Plurality at work! Why aren’t Christians given special treatment?!).

You don’t think our religious freedoms are under attack? The evidence shows otherwise. (There’s about as much evidence for Christians’ religious freedoms under attack as there is for the Bible…)

Despite being guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Sections 1 and 5 of the Kentucky Constitution Bill of Rights, secular progressives value religious liberty only so long as it is practiced behind closed doors at home or in church (or privately at work. The House and Senate should not be mistaken for pulpits). Hence, their opposition to HB 279.

No, during the debates on HB 279, many of us did not run from the battle. Quite the contrary, some stood, myself included, to face the opposition and confront the attack. You may not agree with our position, but you cannot say we ran from the fight. (You didn’t run from the fight. You stampeded over the opposition while hoisting a Christian flag over your head.)

Finally, the prediction of “nightmare scenarios” because HB 279 became law, sounds a little like “the sky is falling”: lots of law-breakers motivated by “sincerely held beliefs,” a barrage of complaints, government waste and so on. (It won’t take long before another LGBT or non-Christian individual is discriminated against because of “Christian love.” They’re free to be bigots on their own time. They shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate on the taxpayers’ dime.) Yet amazingly, none of that was happening last October, before the Kentucky Supreme Court decided in the Amish case to change the law to restrict religious freedom. And that’s what necessitated the filing and eventual passage of HB 279, to restore the law to what is was, to once again protect our religious freedoms from overzealous government infringement.

Pandering? No. Fighting for religious liberty? Yes. (Whining because your privilege was threatened? Yes.)

This is textbook Christian Martyr Complex in action. No one is taking away the actual rights of Christians at all. The things Lee mentions are all perceived rights that too many Christians think they deserve simply for being in the majority.

By the way, as for that “Amish case” decided by the state Supreme Court that Lee cites as the reason for the bill, the law that restricted religious freedom, a reader summarized what that was all about in an email:

… [Lee] blames the Kentucky Supreme Court for a ruling last year in which the Court held that Amish who drive their slow-moving wagons on public highways could be fined for failure to display reflective safety symbols on the back of their buggies. (Seems they present a safety hazard when cars can come up on them at night or in bad weather, because they are slow and poorly visible.) Here’s the irony of Lee’s statements: In the Amish case, the ACLU actually represented, wait for it, the AMISH.

At least one Christian, also writing a letter to the newspaper, expressed some rational thought:

At age 79 I have never felt my religious freedom is in jeopardy in our nation. I can go to the church of my choice, read my Bible, give my offering and pray quietly wherever I wish. I fear the world’s biggest danger comes from religious zealots who will not tolerate those with whom they disagree.

The far right suffers from Acute Paranoiac Egomania Syndrome, known as APES. Watch our for the APES.

Alright, forget I ever said “Christian Martyr Complex.” From now on, it’s APES all the way. That is perfect.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.