Kansas Tries to Figure Out Its Own Religious Freedom Laws

Via the Kansas City Star, the Kansas State Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow to answer the question: do our religious freedom laws adequately protect us from the gays?

I’m just kidding about that characterization, but after the failure of HB 2453, which would have permitted discrimination by business owners and government employees, conservatives in Kansas are still pressing for a modification of the state’s religious freedom law. They say that law, passed last year, is inadequate to protect their religious freedom should the Supreme Court invalidate same-sex marriage bans.

The state’s RFRA mirrors the language of the federal RFRA — the same law at issue in the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court — and prohibits the government from imposing a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion, unless it is in furtherance of a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

Republican Jeff King, chair of the Judiciary Committee, wants to examine Kansas’s RFRA to determine whether any additional protections are warranted. “The answer might be that we don’t need to go anywhere,” he told the Star.

But Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, told the Star the 2013 law has “gaps,” because, being based on the federal model, it doesn’t take into account the overturning of same-sex marriage bans.  Schuttloffel told the Star he would want to see protections for clergy who did not want to perform same-sex ceremonies.

That seems like an easy fix. But of course, that’s not all:

[T]he Catholic Conference also wants protections for non-clergy. HB 2453 would have shielded business owners, private employees and government employees who declined to serve couples on religious grounds, provisions which were opposed by gay rights activists as discriminatory.

Another state group, Kansans for Liberty, is disappointed that the Senate failed to take up HB 2453 after it passed the House. Its president, Craig Gabel, seems to have a firm grasp on the legal issues: “If we’re going to start providing lifestyle protections, then are we going to start providing protections so that nudists can go shop in the grocery store without putting clothes on? The list is endless if we’re going to start doing things like that.”

Schuttloffel characterized a business owner’s refusal to serve a gay person as “immoral,” but suggested that making flower arrangements for a wedding would constitute participation in an immoral act. But what if a gay man is purchasing flowers as an engagement gift for his boyfriend?

If anti-gay advocates want protections for clergy, there are plenty of models for that, which have passed in other states with little to no objection. But they admit they want broader “protections” for non-clergy, which is the “protection” (aka discrimination) that led to the downfall of Arizona’s SB 1062

The Kansas Senate doesn’t seem keen on enduring the same public relations nightmare as Arizona. A smart move for the conservative Christian advocates would be to push for the clergy exemption and go home. But something tells me that’s not the strategy.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email

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