Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Around The Nation

Human & Gay Rights Groups Urge Kentucky Governor: Veto Religious Freedom Bill
FRANKFORT, KY -- Civil rights and LGBT equality groups have been joined by the ACLU in asking Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, (D) to veto Kentucky's religious freedom bill, [House Bill 279] which was approved by the Senate last Thursday. Critics charge that the bill can be used to discriminate against the state's LGBTQ community and other minorities, citing the legislation's wording;
"[The] government shall not burden a person's or religious organization's freedom of religion," while protecting "the right to act or refuse to act on religious grounds."
In a 29-6 vote the Senate approved the bill and sent it to Beshear for his consideration. The Governor's options are that he can sign it into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
In a letter prior to the Senate's action, The Kentucky Equality Federation sent a letter to Beshear urging him to veto the measure:
"House Bill 279 represents a clear and present danger to the gay and lesbian community and other minority groups around the commonwealth," the letter said. 
"House Bill 279 does nothing more than give people permission to discriminate based on their religious beliefs, thereby taking it beyond 'freedom of religion' to 'forced religion,' because they have imposed their religious beliefs on others, with legal authority to do so."
Opponents were joined Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) which released a statement outlining that organisation's opposition to the measure which read in part:
"If the Senate chooses to keep the bill's current language, and not amend it to include specific protections for civil rights laws, a religious individual could claim an exemption from any law or policy that prohibits discrimination-leaving racial minorities, women, LGBT people and others without adequate protections..." 
[...] The ACLU seeks to protect the rights of individuals to worship, or not, as they choose, as well as the rights of others to receive civil rights protections by amending HB 279 to explicitly acknowledge that it does not authorize, nor serve as a defense to, religiously motivated actions that undermine civil rights protection. We want to prevent religion from being used to defy any anti-discrimination laws-federal, state or local."
Carolyn Miller-Cooper, executive director of the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission, said her agency "supports religious freedom but is concerned about the overly broad language of HB 279."
The bill, she said, could allow someone to deny certain types of people access to public facilities, employment opportunities or housing if that denial is "based upon a sincerely held religious belief."
Late Friday afternoon Governor Beshear released a statement in which he said:
"Both the Kentucky and U.S. constitutions provide for freedom of religion. Once we get it, we will review it and make some determination."
Tennessee Bill Would Permit Graduate Student Counselors To Reject Clients Based On Religious Beliefs
NASHVILLE, TN -- A former state lawmaker turned anti-gay Christian conservative activist, David Fowler, has helped draft a bill in the state legislature that would allow graduate-student counselors to reject clients for religious reasons.
The proposed measure would bar schools from disciplining students if they decline to treat clients with “goals, outcomes or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student.”
Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, who previously squared off in a fight with LGBTQ equality rights activists in an effort to change Tennessee's anti-bullying law for students, received help from Alliance Defending Freedom,(ADF) a Phoenix-based Christian legal group. 
The bill was based in large part by a case in Michigan that involved a Christian student named Julea Ward, who was expelled from a master’s degree program at Eastern Michigan University for refusing to counsel gay clients or clients who were sexually active but not married. She sued the school with help from ADF, and eventually received a $75,000 settlement. Fowler's bill would bar schools from punishing students like Ward.
A similar bill was signed into law in Arizona. Lawmakers in Michigan and Georgia have proposed similar bills.
The Tennessean Newspaper reported that the American Counseling Association, a national association for counselors, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of Eastern Michigan University. That brief claimed students should not be allowed to use religion to turn down clients.
According to the paper, Fowler said that claim violates the religious freedom of students.
“The legal arguments made by the accrediting bodies against Ms. Ward in her case made it clear that the trend in at least psychology is against religious liberty and in favor of government-mandated speech,” he said in an e-mail.
Fowler also said the bill would require students to consult with their supervisors to refer clients to another counselor in case of a conflict so that no harm comes to the client.
Jake Morris, the director of the graduate program in counseling at Nashville-based Lipscomb Christian university said the bill is a bad idea.
Morris noted that students need to be able to treat a wide range of clients, not just those who share their religious values.
“I want my students to be able to help anyone who walks in their door,” he said. For example, if a student thinks divorce is sinful, that student still needs to know how to treat clients who have gone through a divorce.” 
“We are health care professionals,” he said. “We need to act like it.” 
The state Senate was scheduled to discuss the bill Monday, while a House subcommittee is scheduled to take it up on Tuesday.