(WFPL) Joining other civil rights group, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is urging Governor Steve Beshear to block a bill that would allow people to ignore laws and regulations violating their religious beliefs.
Last week, the Democratic-controlled House overwhelmingly approved HB 279 by an 82-7 vote. It has now moved on the state Senate, where observers predict it is likely to pass in the GOP-controlled chamber.
Supporters say the bill strengthens the rights for people of faith and clarifies religious freedom in state law. But civil rights groups such as the ACLU of Kentucky and Louisville Fairness Campaign argue it will gut protections for women, racial minorities and gay residents.
John Johnson is executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. He tells WFPL the commission agrees "wholeheartedly" with civil rights proponents, adding there is a potential risk for people to use their faith to discriminate.
"If this bill is adopted people can hide behind religious freedoms and discriminate in anyway they feel. They could say based on my religion I don’t think I should serve people based on interracial marriage. I don’t believe I should serve people because they are of a different religion," he says. "People can hide behind it in anyway, and it just makes it more difficult for the human rights agencies to pursue equality in our state."
Johnson says he understands the need to protect faith inherent in the bill, but is calling on the governor to block the measure.
A Beshear spokesperson told WFPL they are monitoring the bill's progress, "and if it reaches the governor’s desk, (Beshear) will review it thoroughly to weigh its impact and understand any potential unintended consequences."
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday endorsed Barack Obama's bid for re-election, citing the Democratic president's efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan and tackle terrorism as well as an improving U.S. economy.
"I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on," the Republican, who also backed Obama in 2008, told "CBS This Morning." He added, "I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012."
The move comes just days after Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney clashed over foreign policy in the third and last presidential debate ahead of the November 6 election.
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