Kansas passes religious liberty bill, LGBT activists immediately claim discrimination

LGBT activists are outraged over a bill passed by the Kansas Legislature allowing student groups at public universities to restrict membership based on religious beliefs, saying it promotes discrimination.

The state House of Representatives voted 81-41-3 Wednesday in favor of SB 175, which had already passed in the Senate last year by an even larger margin and now heads to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk for his signature.

If signed into law, the measure would prohibit public colleges and universities from taking punitive action against religious student organizations that impose membership requirements related to their stated beliefs, specifically authorizing such groups to require that members adhere to and comply with the association’s sincerely held religious beliefs, including any related standards of conduct, and giving the organizations significant leeway to define their religious missions as they wish.

Students or groups that feel they have been discriminated against in violation of the law would have the option of taking legal action to seek “appropriate relief,” which could potentially include monetary damages, and would also be entitled to cite the violation as a defense against any civil or administrative proceedings brought against them by the school.

According to The Topeka Capital-Journal, supporters of the bill described it during floor debate as a rejection of the “all-comers” policies at some schools that prohibit student groups from denying membership even to those who may openly disagree with the principles they espouse.

“Our goal here is just to have a much cleaner rule of law in the state of Kansas to discourage an all-comers policy which hypothetically would allow a white supremacist to join a black student association,” explained Rep. Craig McPherson, elaborating on speculations by other lawmakers that Christian groups might be compelled to accept gay or Muslim members.

Opponents, however, have dismissed religious liberty arguments, insisting that the bill is discriminatory against LGBT students.

“SB 175 has nothing to do with American values or religious liberty and everything to do with blatant discrimination against tens of thousands of college students from all across the country,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “If signed into law, this disgraceful bill would undermine non-discrimination policies and protections at colleges and universities throughout Kansas. We urge Governor Brownback to stand on the right side of history and veto this draconian measure.”

A spokesperson for Brownback’s office told Campus Reform that the Governor has not yet received the bill, and will not make any public pronouncements on it until he is able to review the language.

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