Religious freedom bill passes state Senate

Story by Katlyn Mackie, Staff writer

The Kentucky Senate recently passed a new bill allowing more freedoms for religious and political groups in high schools and state universities, but some aspects concern members of the LGBT community.

The bill, known as Senate Bill 17, was signed by Gov. Matt Bevin on March 16 and is being interpreted as a way to legalize LGBT discrimination.

While the bill mainly focuses on areas like being able to “voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints” in school assignments without discrimination and to wear religious messages on clothes, there is a section that send up a red flag.

The bill states: “no recognized religious or political student organization is hindered or discriminated against in the ordering of its internal affairs, selection of leaders and members…”

This leads people to believe that a person can be excluded from an organization and justify it by stating religious reasons.

Michelle Barber, Interim Coordinator of LGBT programming, said Murray State values the freedom to join and form groups, assemble, learn and build bridges within the racer family and organizational borders should be open to those who want to learn.

She also said SB 17 could be a slippery slope toward excluding people, on religious grounds, with differing views, sexual orientations, gender identities or faiths.

“As a religious freedom bill, I have no problem with the principle – it’s a Constitutional right I hold dear,” Barber said. “But most LGBTQ people recognize this type of bill as permission to discriminate against people who are LGBTQ.”

Although it is said that many people believe this is a way for student groups to discriminate against LGBT people, there are others who don’t agree.

Shianne Arns, freshman from St. Peter’s, Missouri, said she doesn’t really believe this bill is a way to discriminate against LGBTQ students and it is hard to say if they are targeting them or not.

“In all honesty, with it being so vague of a statement anyone could take it anyway they want,” Arns – who LGBT identifies – said. “In this day and age people get offended by the littlest of things.”

Tim Palmer, Campus minister of the Wesley Foundation, said while he doesn’t know much about the SB 17 personally, he does know people are supposed to love their neighbor as they are.

He also said he doesn’t know the sexual orientation of his members and doesn’t believe he has the right to know, as it is a personal topic and doesn’t affect whether the students are included or not.

Barber said many of the LGBT students come from solid faith backgrounds and are searching for faith homes while attending Murray State and will even have religious activities for the students during Gaypril, a month-long celebration of LGBT culture.

“It would be a shame if any group, local or national, religious or otherwise, excluded someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Barber said.