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Frankfort Poised For Religious Liberty Fight

Lee Watts, a chaplain to the Kentucky state capitol, leads Kim Davis supporters in prayer, Monday, July 13, 2015, at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Ashland, Ky.

With Kentucky becoming the stage for the continuing debate over same-sex marriage, opponents say the time is right to press for enhanced religious liberty protections for officials and business owners who object to the Supreme Court’s decision.

Next year, backers of a statewide fairness law will go tête-à-tête with religious liberty advocates, both with copies of the U.S. Constitution in hand. Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with the Family Foundation of Kentucky, tells WUKY that lawmakers can expect new religious freedom measures to hit the docket during the upcoming session of the General Assembly, though he cautions they are still taking shape.

"We're not settled on any particular proposal right now," he says. "We're going to look at some things that will not just affect county clerks but that will be broader in protecting the religious freedom rights of every Kentuckian."

And that, Cothran argues, should be lawmakers’ focus – not shielding business patrons from anti-gay bias, which he characterizes as “for all practical purposes, a myth.” When asked where the line should be drawn on religious freedom, he says the First Amendment should serve as the guide.

Meanwhile, Derek Selznick with the Kentucky ACLU says his organization will challenge any attempt to "license discrimination" and plans to continue pressing for a fairness measure that would guarantee equal treatment under the law for LGBT residents across the Commonwealth.   

"Outside of nine places in Kentucky - Louisville, Lexington, Covington, and other areas around the state - you can be fired for being gay. You can be denied housing if somebody just thinks you're gay or transgender," he says. 

And neither side is waiting for the 2016 session to make their voices heard. This Saturday, Frankfort will play host to twin rallies, one celebrating the passage of the city's 2013 fairness ordinance and the other standing with county clerks who have refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Kentucky’s religious freedom law, which says that government cannot infringe on any person's sincerely held religious beliefs unless there is "clear and convincing evidence" it should do so, overcame a gubernatorial veto two years ago.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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