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Churches speak out against 'relgious freedom' act
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Last week the Kansas House of Representatives passed HB 2453, described as an act “protecting religious freedom regarding marriage.” Nationally, it was described as an “anti-gay marriage proposal.” By Tuesday, the chairman of a state Senate committee assigned to review the bill pronounced it dead.
But the declaration from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King didn’t appear likely to end the debate over providing legal protections for people and organizations refusing for religious reasons to provide goods and services to gay and lesbian couples. King, an Independence Republican, said he’ll still have hearings on whether Kansas needs to enact religious liberty protections in case the federal courts strike down the state’s gay-marriage ban.
The House approved a bill last week to prohibit government sanctions or anti-discrimination lawsuits when individuals, groups and businesses cite their religious beliefs in refusing to provide goods, services, accommodations and employment benefits related to a marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or a celebration of such relationships.
Supporters said their intent was to prevent florists, bakers and photographers from being punished for refusing to participate in same-sex weddings, keep churches from having to provide space or clergy for such ceremonies and keep religiously affiliated adoption agencies from being forced to place children with gay couples. Critics said the bill was much broader than advertised and would encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Senate leaders already had said the bill would not pass their chamber, but King said Tuesday that his committee won’t even take it up.
Here’s how area representatives voted on HB 2453: Steven Johnson, no; Troy Waymaster, no; John Edmonds, yes; Marshall Christmann, yes; Jack Thimesch, no; John Ewy, yes.
Some lawmakers did not see the act as promoting religious freedom. Sydney Carlin, a Manhattan Democrat, said this when casting her vote: “Mr. Speaker: It is my deeply held sincere religious belief that the commandment to ‘Love one another’ is contradicted by this legislation. This bill expressly permits discrimination against my neighbor in the name of religious freedom. I vote no on HB 2453.”
Some church leaders also spoke out against the bill. Edith Guffey, conference minister of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ, issued this message:
“It’s hard to imagine anything more ironic than the passage of House Bill 2453 as we celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. As the country turns its attention (and dollars) to flowers, candy and other expressions of love, the Kansas House passes a bill to allow discrimination against persons because they love someone of the same gender.
“And to top it off, the bill cloaks this license to discriminate in ones’ religious beliefs. I wonder if those who support this bill remember the very basic tenants about God. I wonder if they remember that God is love. Anyone with just a casual understanding of Christianity knows that Jesus never demeaned, excluded, or otherwise disrespected those who were different or marginalized.  ...
“‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.’
“I don’t think the message of this song changes when children are gay or lesbian and grow up to find that person who makes their life more fulfilling and who promises to love and care for them the rest of their lives.
“As people of faith, I hope we are outraged about the bill and outraged that the House would use faith and religion as an excuse for being small-minded, fearful, homophobic and non-gracious. It doesn’t matter if you support same-gender marriage or not (by the way, I do), but passing a law that allows a business to discriminate because of one’s sexual preference is stepping back to a time that I hope no one wants in the state of Kansas or anywhere else. Imagine your gay or lesbian friends sitting at a lunch counter and being refused service. Is that who we are as Christians, as people of faith, as people who believe in simple civility? I don’t think so.”
Two bishops of the Episcopal Church, the Right Reverend Dean E. Wolfe and the Right Reverend Michael P. Milliken, also urged the rejection of the bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.