Bill allowing refusal of service on religious grounds moves to Senate

By: Phil White - Email
By: Phil White - Email

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WICHITA, Kan. -- A Kansas House bill allowing individuals, groups and businesses to deny services based on religious grounds has been sent to the Senate.

House members voted 72-49 Wednesday to send House Bill 2453 to Senators.

Backers of the bill said it protects religious liberties. Opponents said it encourages discrimination.

"The passage of 2453 is infuriating," said Thomas Witt, Executive Director of Equality Kansas.

Representatives who voted for the bill say it in no way encourages discrimination.

"I would not have voted in favor of it if it was even close to being a discrimination bill," said Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville.

Edwards said the bill merely keeps people who oppose same-sex unions from being forced to be involved with them.

"It simply says if a person has strong religious values and they do not want to be involved in some of these activities, they can say, 'No,' and not be sued," Edwards said.

Witt said Kansas law already prevents legal action against private businesses who turn same-sex couples away because homosexuals are not protected by the state's anti-discrimination laws. However, he said he has a problem with a provision of the bill that allows government employees to opt out on religious grounds of providing services to same-sex couples.

"Giving government employees the right to turn away taxpaying Kansans is just an offense to any reasonable person in this state," Witt said.

According to the bill, if a government employee will not provide a service to homosexuals for religious reasons, that agency has to provide another employee who will.

However, some religious community leaders worry the bill could have unintended consequences and open the door to discrimination.

"I really do worry about a law that seems anti-thetical to the teachings of Jesus," said Brent Johnston, Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Wichita. "Rather than keeping people out, we're supposed to invite them in."

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, referred the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee. A spokeswoman for Wagle said a committee hearing on the bill will likely not be set until next month.

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