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.

  • liu

    It’s funny how terrible Christians (or any religious majority) are at freedom of religion. They seem to be unable to realize that freedom of religIon cannot exist outside a secular state, and that freedom of religion means freedom from religion as well. Ironically, the burden of defending people’s faiths inevitably falls on the secularists in the country, be they atheists, agnostics, or humanists, as they are the only ones who understand that religion must be separated from government if freedom of religion is to truly exist.

  • Rain

    Wow, poor Rep. Stan Lee. I’m not even religious and he makes me want to jump up on a cross myself! I feel for the poor guy.

  • Inthewater

    Freedom of religion…as long as it is theirs.
    As others have said, they don’t really “get” what it means. They think it means that Christianity is defended exclusivley, rather than the actual, intended idea.

  • A3Kr0n

    My deeply held religious belief is to not help any person with religious faith, and to kick them to the curb.

  • Regina Carol Moore

    This sounds a lot like a way for extremist fundamentalist Muslims to introduce Sharia law in the United States. Does this mean they will be able to perform genital mutilations and stone women for being immodest here in America? This is going to open people up for abuse in so many ways. So messed up.

  • Achron Timeless

    Yeah, this is why I’m seriously considering calling myself a Pastafarian while living in Kentucky… for legal reasons.

    Well that and being able to wear a pirate costume when I damn well please, as it’s a sincerely held religious belief. =)

  • Regina Carol Moore

    I can see a lot of new religions popping up if this is allowed to happen. Could be fun!

  • baal

    “expressing their personal religious beliefs”

    Business actions are not personal religious beliefs. This is true even when you own the business and are a devout person. Really, were I a business owner, most folks would object to being coerced to follow my devout beliefs on being pro-healthy (broccoli and fatty small ocean fish for everyone!).

  • onamission5

    Lee seems to have mistaken freedom of personal religious belief with the right to force other people to do whatever the fuck he wants without question or protest. It’s a common mistake amongst his ilk.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    “with this well intended but ultimately flawed legislation.”

    There are no well intentions in that bill. It is about letting the christians in the state do whatever they want to deny people things if they feel they are icky.

    Is this kind of law constitutional?

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Since when was not providing service to a customer coercion?

  • rustygh

    They’re not “unable”, they simply do not wish to and hide that fact.
    I believe we will have to get mean to fight Christian because they do not care about anyone non-christian! They prove it over and over again.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Since when does the Right care if something is Constitutional?

  • TiltedHorizon

    “”Cowardice,” is often defined as the act of a soldier running away from battle during war.”

    I have six dictionaries (don’t ask). I can’t find this definition in any of them. Here are the definitions I found:

    Ignoble fear in the face of danger or pain.
    Lack of courage in facing danger, pain, or difficulty
    lack of courage or fortitude.
    lack of courage or resolution
    Lack of bravery.
    Contemptibly lacking in the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.

    I guess the actual definition would not have served as a useful launchpad to the his fantasized ‘war on religion’ diatribe in the US. Considering Lee’s flair for the dramatic I have to wonder if he envisions himself a Christian Conan the Barbarian, sitting in a king’s throne chair atop a pile of heathens, sword unsheathed with hilt in hand awaiting his next challenger; all while the wind sweeps though his stache.

  • busterggi

    The Taliban may be out of power in Afghanistan but they are doing just fine in red-state America.

  • busterggi

    They get what it means but they have no intention of allowing what it means to happen for anyone but themselves.

  • busterggi

    Pirate COSTUME? Damn it, wear real pirate clothes you bloody heretic!

  • Stev84

    It’s a centuries old American tradition. It’s why the Puritans came to the continent in the first place. To establish theocracies and mercilessly oppress everyone who was different. Which they weren’t allowed to do in Europe.

  • Ibis3

    My guess is you’ve never been denied service because you’re of the wrong skin colour, sex, or sexual orientation.

  • Stev84

    Religious employers certainly coerce their employees. Intrusive questions about religions beliefs during interviews and unethical “morality” clauses in work contracts are not uncommon.

  • Pattrsn

    Congratulations on finding a nit to pick, albeit a small one.

  • Marco Conti

    This guy is a dangerous Moron. He needs to be stopped and stopped soon.

    What about the Amish? Are they nuts? Some of them want to drive their buggies without a danger sign in the back? Do they have a death wish? I would not mind if I were assured that every car on their road was a semi truck and all we needed to do was scrape their remains from some truck’s grill. But if a small car hits one of the buggies, everybody gets hurt.

    I hope I misinterpreted the meaning of that.

  • Matthew Baker

    I always wonder where Tom Selleck’s mustache hides when he shaves it off.

  • Marco Conti

    I honestly think we should take pastafarianism and turn it into a real religion. We can just claim that Pastor bob got a revelation and now the joke is over.
    Then we can use the SFM to make absurd claims along with the Christians so everyone can see how stupid their claims are.

  • Arthur Adams

    Dear Representative Lee:

    It is my sincerely held religious belief that I need to smack that cheap toupee off the top of your head.

    Why are you repressing me?

  • WallofSleep

    Why is it that when people like Lee talk about religious freedom/liberty, they always seem to focus on the most shallow and superficial expressions of their faith?

  • The Captain

    When you own all the grocery stores in a state for instance.

  • Jordan Olsen

    Pew study just came out that shows almost one third of Americans would be in favor of making Christianity the national religion.

    Scary times we live in that a third of our country doesn’t believe in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

  • Fed_Up18

    When the Left wants to help anyone.

  • Wtchgawd

    Be a Jedi. It sounds cooler and more people recognize it.

  • SeekerLancer

    I will “tell that” to all of those people. I will tell that to them all day long.

  • TnkAgn

    Three observations:

    1. When did Ned Flanders run for office in KY?
    2. If Stan Lee is his real name, it is apropos. His open letter is comic book comical, as he misconstrues over 300 years of Christian privilege and 224 years of religious co-opting of our godless Constitution with “religious freedom.” And now in the 21st Century, he and his fellow believers are persecuted?
    3. Or is that Ron Burgundy?

  • Hank Lukas

    I don’t want anyone forcing the religion on me. i have my own religion. If you are forcing your religion on me,than there must be something wrong with that religion.

  • TheG

    I wish the Christian majority would understand the honor and goodwill to be found in protecting the minorities. I mean, especially because it was Representative Stan Lee was the one that taught me at an early age that with great power comes great responsibility.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Your guess is 100% correct.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    It’s still not coercion, as an employee has every right to refuse to sell one’s labor.

  • Alan Mauldin

    Morons like this one should have to personally pay for legal costs when this ridiculously unconstitutional law gets bitchslapped down in court.
    He’s probably pissed because he looks like a 70s porn star.

  • Cary Whitman

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

    Christians should be very much afraid of this bill too, since it opens the door for all kinds of non-Christians to discriminate against them. I’ve never been able to understand why Christians can’t seem to understand that laws that give religions special privileges give those same special privileges to ALL religions, not just theirs. I can’t wait to see them scream bloody murder when some businesses start refusing to serve Christians!

  • Cavan

    I’m going to open a business in KY, and I’m going to insist that anybody wanting to use the bathrooms in my store MUST be wearing a pasta colander on their head while they do so. Why? Because it is my sincerely held belief that doing otherwise would be a great offense to my god, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    You don’t like it? It’s not fair, you say? You don’t want to wear a spaghetti colander on your head while you drop the kids off at the pool? It’s too humiliating to be kicked out of my store for risking eternal damnation by taking it off your head before I have given you permission to do so?

    Well, that’s just TOO BAD. My sincerely held religious beliefs MUST be respected and are protected by law!

  • Cary Whitman

    Yeah, reading stuff like this is enough to make any reasonable person want to walk around with a spaghetti strainer on their head! What do you think their definition of “sincerely held beliefs” is? My guess is that it will only be beliefs that fit their own narrow view of Christianity!

  • Cary Whitman

    My husband once got a certificate off the Internet that states he is a pastor in some wacky church (I can’t remember the name of the church, but the founder believed that anyone who thought they were a pastor had been directed by God to contact him, so he gladly handed out these certificates to anyone who asked for one) . Anyway, as an ordained pastor, I bet he could come up with all kinds of fun “sincerely held religious beliefs”!

  • Paul_Robertson

    So does this mean that St Ronnie’s eleventh commandment can now be rewritten as “APES shall not kill APES”?

  • David Kopp

    And if the employer is the only one in the market for labor, that means the employee just needs to suck it up? Employees are people, and deserve to be treated as such. Employers are not deities. That libertarian idea of “freedom” of businesses to do whatever they want with no regard for anyone doesn’t work in the real world where externalities can be significant.

  • David Kopp

    It’s really interesting… I wonder which flavor of Christianity they want ensconced as such? Protestantism? Catholicism? Baptist? Lutheran? Mormon? Methinks they don’t know what they ask for…

  • Stev84

    Employees are people, not slaves. And businesses don’t have a religion. Discriminating based on religion in non-religious jobs is illegal. Period.

    One company just got slapped down by the EEOC because they asked religious questions during interviews.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    That’s horrible.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    And if the employer is the only one in the market for labor, that means the employee just needs to suck it up?

    -Yes. I agree with every one your positive statements.

  • Pattrsn

    Sure and jobs being so plentiful and poverty so much fun, ts not like there aren’t large numbers of people for whom that “right” is anything other than purely hypothetical. Thank goodness we live in libertopia.

  • coyotenose

    People used to die after being denied treatment at hospitals because they weren’t the right sort of people to be allowed inside. The laws that prevent that are the same ones that prevent this.

    That’s all the rebuttal your beliefs will ever require.

  • Marian L Shatto

    There are a lot of different sects within the Amish, and they each set their own standards for how much they will compromise with “the worldly.” Most Amish in our area have no problem with the orange warning triangles. Some even have a kind of tail light on their buggies. But the extremely strict ones won’t use the orange triangles because the color orange is too worldly. Generally they are willing to use gray/silver reflective tape instead. Conflict arises when the local authority won’t adapt their regulations to accept the reflective tape and the Amish won’t engage in the sin of displaying orange. If some compromise can’t be reached, it isn’t unheard of for an entire Amish community to pick up and move to an area where the regulations are more flexible. No, they don’t have a death wish. But within their world view, they are not willing to trade eternal salvation for temporal security.

    One important thing to realize about the Amish is that they do not want to impose their beliefs or lifestyle on anyone else. They simply want to be left alone to live according to their own beliefs. Unfortunately, they can’t exist in a bubble with no interaction with the “English” (anyone who isn’t Amish), so conflicts arise from time to time, most frequently, it seems, around issues of safety.

  • allein

    He reminds me of one of my high school teachers. Except the teacher was cool…

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    Fortunately they would never come to a consensus of what flavor, the fed
    would eventually have to step in a declare Vanilla as the flavor, then
    they would form separate congressional advisory panels: such as
    Special advisory panel for Cones vs cups or other forms of containment
    Special advisory panel for Toppings concerning sprinkles, hot sauces and whipped creams.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    That stache is epic.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    I guess the new pitch word is “sincerely held religious belief” from now on out whenever I have to explain my non-theism I am going to say, it is or because of or due to “my sincerely held non-theistic belief.” that such and such is false, incorrect etc.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    Now they just die because the don’t have the right kind of insurance

  • Phil

    1) the law will be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional (the most likely scenario), or 2) the clueless lawmakers will realize what they’ve voted on applies to all, not just their brand of religion – it reminds of the idiot in Louisiana who voted for vouchers for kids to attend parochial schools, but then screamed when she realized it also meant that Muslim kids could attend Muslim schools on the state’s dime. Her response was “that was not the intent of this law.” But that was exactly the intent!

  • Rian

    If I had a pogo stick, I would jump right up there on a cross right next to poor Rep. Stan Lee! Poor persecuted Rep. Stan Lee! Too bad I don’t have a pogo stick though. Quick, bring me my fainting couch. Take that, you thumbs down person you…

  • Phil

    But I’m REFORMED Pastafarian. We’re allowed to use colanders for mostacioli, rigatoni, ziti, and lasagne. It’s only the regatta (ridged) pasta that’s blasphemous. In extremis, even elbow macaroni is allowed………

  • wmdkitty

    Re: “The Amish Case”

    Their religious liberty should NOT trump what is clearly a safety issue with the reflectors.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Personal religious beliefs are not limited to worship on Sunday. It is all aspects of your life, including your business. If your beliefs are broccoli tat is what you would serve. If the government forces you to serve fatty beef because someone is offended that you don’t offer it, that would be denying you your religious freedom

  • Rwlawoffice

    If you read the bill it doesn’t provide any protections or Christianity that it also doesn’t provide to all religious beliefs. It applies equally to all religions and is really nothing more than what is protected by the First Amendment.

    And if you don’t think there is a war on religion including Christianity in this country, you are intentionally ignoring it or are delusional.

  • Wendy S

    I see a lot of people getting Ordained Atheist Ministers since there are countless places who will ordain you for free. Then that person can enrage the Kentucky religious people by starting an Atheist Church run by an ordained minister who can perform weddings, ceremonies, and exercise tax-exempt status.

    While I’d personally prefer no mention of “Church” or “religion” in anything Atheists believe/do….this certainly would be a good dose of their own medicine to the Kentucky haters while also providing a sanctuary for weddings, celebrations, and even a congregation for people who don’t want to be stuck at the courthouse. The Kentucky legislature would be enraged. And that’s reason enough I hope someone in Kentucky does this (so have at it, Achron Timeless!)

  • Rev. Achron Timeless

    That was an excellent suggestion =)

  • Rev. Achron Timeless

    Well the problem is this bill has the whole “sincerely held” bit as a defense against that. I can’t claim to be an atheist and have sincerely held beliefs about a religion I don’t believe in.

    It’s a great idea, but they added that before it went for vote, so someone thought of it. What they didn’t think of was Wendy’s find, the First Church of Atheism. Now that is sincerely held for me. Especially because I don’t have to claim any beliefs or follow any rituals, and it’s clearly understood that it’s just a construct for legal protection from idiots like my state’s legislature.

  • Michael David Barber Moghul

    Too many dimwitted Americans to count.

  • 65snake

    If you really think that there is a war on religion in this country, then you are the one who is delusional. What there is, is a growing portion of the population that is getting sick and tired of xtian privilege. You simply don’t get to tell non-xtians that they have to follow your beliefs. Period. Just like no one gets to (or is even trying to) tell you that you have to follow someone else’s beliefs.

    YOU are part of the problem.

  • Lady Yui

    But personal religious beliefs ARE limited to applying only to YOU. If your beliefs demand that you only eat broccoli, then that means that YOU cannot eat anything else. It doesn’t give you any right whatsoever to force someone else to only eat broccoli. As long as no one is forcing YOU to eat something other than broccoli, then no one is forcing you to violate your beliefs.

    If your belief is that *everyone* must only eat broccoli, and you attempt to follow through on that belief, it doesn’t matter how “sincerely” you believe it…you’re aggressing upon others and violating their rights…and that is a crime.

  • wmdkitty

    You’re fucking delusional if you think there’s some kind of “war on religion”.

  • Christopher Salihe Payne

    If there was a war on Christianity, trust me, you’d know it, and it would be absolutely nothing like the tolerant, luxurious atmosphere of the United States.

    God, you people are fucking delusional. Like, it’s hard to wrap my head around it.

  • Pirate Froglet

    What was that about the inventor of transfusions dying because he was taken to a ‘whites only’ hospital and denied a… transfusion? I’m going to look that up on snopes to make sure it wasn’t just an urban legend now.

  • Tammie Olaker

    I’m afraid you’re right. People who didn’t suffer through this growing up are still using words like “well-intentioned” to describe this sort of thing. By the time they realize how insidious it really is, I’m afraid the solution won’t be easy or quick or painless.

  • Rwlawoffice

    No. If I own a rest. That only serves broccoli because that is the only food I can eat because of my religious beliefs, it would violate my religious beliefs to be forced to serve other food because your beliefs are different. A real world example would be to force a Jewish butcher to kill and sell non kosher meat. As a customer, through the power of go ear meant dictate,you should not be able to for e me to do something that goes against my religious beliefs.

  • Elaine Elizabeth Belz

    In other words, those Christians who have a persecution complex and will do anything to prevent their perceived persecution, no matter how it affects others—THEY are the cowards. If they ever met with actual persecution they would completely cave. They’re in love with their own power and privilege—those are their actual gods, and they will gladly sacrifice their fellow humans to those hungry gods.

    I say this as a Christian myself.

  • Anna

    One important thing to realize about the Amish is that they do not want to impose their beliefs or lifestyle on anyone else.

    Well, except for their children. Children from Amish families are essentially kept permanently ignorant because the government has given the Amish special exemption from education after eighth grade. If an an Amish teenager wants to go to high school (to say nothing of college), he or she is out of luck. Without a secondary education, the ability to leave the Amish community is diminished, since those leaving don’t even have a high school diploma and are thus unqualified for most types of work and unprepared for higher education.

  • cresentmoonflower

    Really?Where is this war on religion?The only ones who are crying this IS the christians because they can’t get it through their heads NOT everyone is christian nor do they want to be.they want to be left alone to practice their own beliefs and as hard as it is for the christians to understand this.this is what’ it’s about.Practice christianity if you want who cares!!But leave the rest out of your delusion!And by the way maybe christians should leave the Pagan customs(trees,holly santa,easter bunny ect…out of their practice!!

  • Alan Canon

    I’m from Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville. I can’t tell you how angry this guy makes me, not in print, anyway. I can tell you that many, many people in our city and our state are in complete opposition to Rep. Stan Lee’s brand of bigotry. I am going to send the representative a piece of my mind. Thank you for bringing it to our attention, Mr. Mehta, and for all you write.

  • Alan Canon


  • Rod

    Because that is all there is….