Tom Loftus, The (Louisville, Ky.)
Courier-Journal 10:57 p.m. EDT March 26, 2013
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky legislature voted Tuesday night to override the governor’s veto of a controversial “religious freedom” bill.
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.
The bill says that government shall not infringe on any person’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless it can show with “clear and convincing evidence” some compelling governmental interest for doing so.
During the House debate Tuesday, Democratic state Rep. Darryl Owens said the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions already protect religious freedom — a freedom he said he does not see under threat.
“This is a piece of legislation looking for a reason,” Owens said.
But Republican Rep. Stan Lee said, “It wasn’t so long ago we had prayer in the schools, but they made us take it out.”
Gay-rights and human-rights groups have warned that the bill could be used to challenge local laws in Louisville, Lexington, Covington and Vicco designed to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.
Gov. Steve Beshear added additional concerns in his veto message Friday, saying the bill’s unintentional consequences also could harm economic development efforts and enforcement of drug laws.
The bill, Beshear said, could place financial burdens on local governments and possibly result in the withholding of needed medical care or the use of religious beliefs as a justification for abuse.
Proponents, who include the Family Foundation and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, say those fears are unfounded. They argue that the bill restores a legal standard in place before recent rulings by the U.S. and Kentucky supreme courts.
On the Capitol steps, opponents rallied. “We’re just hoping to make some change today and move along with the rest of the country,” said Rebecca Cason of Louisville.
Contributing: Gregory A. Hall