House Bill 372: Pastor, Church and School Protection Act

March/April 2018

Regarded as the “Live and Let Live” bill, HB 372 protects churches, pastors and religious schools from state control that would attempt to force them to violate their deeply-held religious beliefs about marriage.

HB 372 is a shield to protect, not a sword to hurt anyone or deny anyone else their rights. And it needs to move this week!

Clearly, churches and religious schools regularly teach their understanding of the Bible on any number of doctrinal issues, and they attempt to live up to those teachings. It would be nothing but “crazy” for the state to allow them to continue to teach their understandings of Scripture, but then mandate that they violate those teachings by threatening them with punishment if they don’t violate those beliefs with their actions. That would make them exactly what their Scriptures define as a “hypocrite” – preaching and teaching one thing, but doing the exact opposite.

The bottom line is that HB 372 would reinforce the rights of churches and religious schools, giving them protection from state officials or outside groups who talk about diversity, but who actually practice intolerance and want to use the state to force their will on others. Though these dangers are not fully manifest in Kentucky yet, they are coming!

Two Other States have Moved on this Issue (Kentucky could be next with HB 372)

In 2015 the Texas legislature passed “The Pastor Protection Act.” The Texas act states that “a religious organization, an organization supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, an individual employed by a religious organization while acting in the scope of that employment, or a clergy or minister” would not be required to marry, celebrate or provide any services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges to a person regarding marriage that would cause the organization or individual to “violate a sincerely held religious belief. “It prohibits the state or any individual” from taking any legal action or discriminating against the organization because of the organization’s beliefs about marriage between two adults. The Texas law has stood without challenge.

In 2016 Mississippi enacted a much broader law that protects not just religious organizations but also individual citizens, public servants, and businesses, from government penalty for operating publicly according to their belief. The language of the Mississippi statute is also different stating, “belief that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman.” (HB 372 states “belief about marriage is between two adults”.) The Mississippi statute was immediately challenged and was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. States had been waiting for the Court to act, but in January of 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court refused the appeal, saying the plaintiffs were unable to prove harm, thus allowing the Mississippi statute to stand. (For now)

Obergefell Created Conflict with Religious Beliefs (Kentucky could help undo the conflict)

Kentucky citizens hold a wide range of reasonable views on the issue of same-sex marriage. Maintaining the Commonwealth’s commitment to religious freedom when faced with these good-faith differences of opinion is vital. Leading legal scholars concur that conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty are real and should be addressed through legislation. Some examples:

In 2016 Iowa’s Civil Rights Commission interpreted the current law in Iowa to mean that churches and pastors could be prosecuted for operating in a manner that was consistent with their church’s doctrine.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and Attorney General Maura Healey both interpreted the Commonwealth’s public accommodations laws to force churches to open church changing rooms, shower facilities, restrooms, and other intimate areas, based on their perceived gender identity, and not their biological sex, in violation of the churches’ religious beliefs.

In February 2018, lawmakers in Michigan asked the Michigan Attorney General to investigate a church’s youth pastor for having a church youth group discussion about sexual identity. The discussion was at the church.

In February 2018 in Florida, an employee of a Catholic School was terminated from her position as first grade teacher for marrying a same-sex partner. The Diocese had previously formally instructed employees that their conduct must comply with the teachings of the Catholic Church, including their teaching on marriage, or their employment was in jeopardy. Headlines in newspapers since then include, “Not the Right Kind of Catholic” and “Why It Was So Wrong for Catholic School to Fire Miami Teacher.”

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