Kentucky Passes Anti-LGBTQ So-Called “Religious Freedom” Bill

SB 17, a bill that would, among other things, allow student groups at colleges, universities and high schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students—is slated to be signed by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. The state’s House approved the legislation in an 81-8 vote after it passed the Senate last month.

The Kentucky state capitol building in Frankfort.Photo by Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock.com

A bill headed to Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin‘s desk is allegedly designed to protect so-called “religious expression” in public schools. we know the drill, here: “Religious freedoms” legislation tends to mean the groups it supposedly protects are afforded license to discriminate against LGBTQ people—in this case, students.

The Associated Press reports that, “Senate Bill 17 passed the state House of Representatives by a vote of 81-8 on Monday. It would prohibit school officials from punishing students for wearing religious messages on their clothes and expressing religious or political beliefs in homework, artwork and speeches. It would also prevent school officials from regulating student organizations, including the selection of members and “doctrines and principles.”

So why is this bill a threat to LGBTQ students? SB 17 effectively undermines inclusive “all comers” policies at public colleges, universities, and now high schools, by allowing student organizations to discriminate against students under the guise of religious freedom. Many public colleges and universities have long had “all-comers” policies that require that student organizations that receive financial and other support from the institute of higher education do not discriminate against students based on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. These policies are important because they allow all members of the student body to participate in students groups and prevent such groups from discriminating against students with state funding. The Supreme Court upheld these all-comers policies as constitutional in the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez decision in 2010.

“This discriminatory legislation goes beyond protecting students’ already secured First Amendment rights and would allow, in part, student groups, at colleges, universities and high schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students and still receive public funding,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “We call on Governor Bevin to veto this legislation. All students should have the opportunity to fully participate in school programs, and no public school should have a license to discriminate against LGBTQ students.”

Warbelow added that the bill would allow student groups to discriminate against LGBT students “under the guise of religion.” Republican state Rep. John Blanton claimed the bill just “guarantees students’ First Amendment rights.”