TOPEKA, Kan. ― Kansas is close to enacting a measure that would allow university religious groups to restrict membership based on beliefs and retain public funding.
The bill got first-round approval in the Kansas House 80-39 Tuesday after it was passed by the Senate last year. If the bill wins final approval in the House Wednesday, it will go to Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a story supporter of religious rights.
Brownback, a devout Catholic, spoke at a Statehouse rally last month held to highlight the need to protect those who cite religious objections to providing goods or services such as flowers or a cake for same sex weddings. Brownback ended the rally by urging activists to continue fighting for “religious liberty.”
Kansas enacted a religious objections law in 2013 that prevents the state or local governments from limiting people’s freedom to express their religion, although the law does not touch on organizations at universities.
Supporters of the measure said it was created in response to pressure on school religious organizations to accept anyone as a member, even if their beliefs conflict with those of the group. Critics argued the bill allows groups that are funded by taxpayer dollars to discriminate and could jeopardize federal funding.
“We’re standing up for the right of individuals to have religious beliefs, even if they’re on a college campus that frowns upon them,” Republican Rep. Craig McPherson of Overland Park said in favor of the measure, adding that the language in the bill was similar to a law in Oklahoma that easily passed the legislature.
The law emerged after a Mormon student was forbidden in 2004 from leading a bible study for the Christian Legal Society, an organization of Christian lawyers, judges, law professors and students at Washburn University law school. The group asked the student to recognize the Bible as the word of God instead of the Book of Mormon. The student lodged a complaint. The Christian group sued and was ultimately able to retain its funding.
Democratic Rep. Brandon Whipple, of Wichita, said he opposed the measure passed by the House.
“If we’re going to provide freedom, we must be just in doing so,” Whipple said.
The measure follows similar religious objections laws in Arkansas and Indiana last year that drew the ire of protesters who said they allowed discrimination against gays and lesbians. Both states revised their laws following the criticism, although they still allow religious objections.
This year, the Missouri Senate passed a proposal to include religious protection in the state constitution for those who object to gay marriage.