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Kentucky public school and college clubs can now discriminate agianst LGBTQ members

GayRVA Staff | March 20, 2017

While same-sex marriage might be the law of the land, legislators around the country are working to undermine progress under the guise of “religious freedom” and a new law in Kentucky is a great example of that coming to pass.

SB 17, signed into law by Governor Matt Bevin last week with little to no fanfare, makes it so “no recognized religious or political student organization is discriminated against in the ordering of its internal affairs,” a move LGBTQ advocates have interpreted to mean school-sanctioned groups can now keep sexual minorities out.

“Governor Bevin’s shameful decision to sign this discriminatory bill into law jeopardizes non-discrimination policies at public high schools, colleges, and universities,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow, in a press release sent out following Bevin’s signing. “No student should fear being excluded from a school club or participating in a school activity because they are LGBTQ. While of course private groups should have the freedom to express religious viewpoints, they should not be able to unfairly discriminate with taxpayer funds.”

But there’s already legal precedent which could hurt KY’s hopes of suppressing LGBTQ students - Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. The case, which was taken up by the Supreme court in 2010, dealt with the Christian Legal Society, a group at  University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, which aimed to require members to sign a pledge opposing homosexuality and refused to allow LGBTQ members. In that case the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the challenge, striking down the club’s policy.

Beyond the bill permitting discrimination, it also allows teachers “to teach about religion with the use of the Bible or other scripture without providing religious instruction, and to teach about religious holidays in a secular manner,” and requires “local boards of education to ensure that the selection of student speakers is made in a viewpoint-neutral manner.”

Many of these later measures are already guaranteed by the first Amendment through freedom of speech, but the language, repeated such issues mirrors a tact used in other legislation hoping to further mire the concept of “religious freedom” as a form of discrimination.

What this holds for KY schools is yet to be seen.

Photo: Kentucky Department of Education