© Greg Nash
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has signed legislation that would allow student organizations at the commonwealth’s public schools and colleges to bar gays, lesbians and transgender people from joining, opening a new front in a national battle over so-called religious freedom laws.
The law, Senate Bill 17, will allow students to engage in religious activities and to express religious views in public schools and in their assignments. It would also allow teachers to include lessons about the Bible in discussions of religion and history.
The legislation stems from a 2015 decision to remove references to Jesus Christ from a student production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
But LGBT rights groups assailed the new law, which they say codifies legal discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. One provision of the law allows student religious groups to set their own rules for membership, which LGBT rights groups say is a path to discrimination.
“No student should fear being excluded from a school club or participating in a school activity because they are LGBTQ,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign. “While of course private groups should have the freedom to express religious viewpoints, they should not be able to unfairly discriminate with taxpayer funds.”
The bill passed both the state Senate and state House with broad bipartisan support. Just three state senators and eight House members voted against the new law.
The Kentucky law is one of about 100 measures advancing in legislatures across the country that gay rights groups warn would allow discrimination. Kansas legislators passed a similar measure granting student groups the right to limit membership last year.
Kentucky is one of a handful of states that is considering an ordinance similar to North Carolina’s controversial H.B. 2, which prevents transgender people from using the restrooms of their choice. Other states, like Arkansas and Alabama, are considering measures that would permit adoption agencies to block gay and lesbian couples from taking in children.