Legislators Override Governor Beshear’s Veto of HB 27927 Mar

On the last day of the 2013 legislative session a bi-partisan majority of members of both parties overwhelmingly voted to override the Governor’s veto of HB 279, a bill that was introduced in response to a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that lowered the standard by which the state could infringe on the free exercise of religion. Once again, the state must show it has a compelling interest in infringing on the basic right to practice a faith, and the method it chooses to do so must be the least restrictive.

An outpouring of support by constituents around the state helped achieve passage of this bill. Faithful Citizens on the Conference alert list and others they informed flooded the capitol with phone calls and emails. Other allies in the struggle to pass this bill kept their constituents informed so they, too, acted. Thousands of constituents urged support for overriding the veto, the first veto overridden in 10 years.

Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville

Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz

In overriding this veto both the Senate and House rejected claims made by opponents of the legislation and used by the Governor as the basis for his decision to veto the bill. In response to this action Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville and chairman of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, issued this statement:

I am very pleased that Kentucky legislators passed House Bill 279 into law last evening.  The right to practice our faith is one of our most basic human and civil rights.  Obviously religious freedom, like free speech and other basic rights, has limits, but our common understanding in this country is that government must seek the least restrictive means to limit these basic rights and only when clearly seeking the common good.

Freedom of speech has been robustly preserved, but during the last 20 years religious freedom has been eroding into only a private right to worship.  This trend is dangerous because the term “freedom of worship” tends to restrict one’s freedom to what is done an hour a week in a place of worship. Freedom of religion, however, deals with how our worship of God overflows in grace into every corner of our lives.

The exercise of religious freedom must be done with civility and respect, but people of faith have a right and responsibility to bring their religious values to their public and civic lives. Otherwise, the content of the common good will be stripped of the values that flow from religious conviction and will represent only secular values that are at times devoid of solid moral content.  Our freedom will only be ensured when we as citizens responsibly exercise our religious freedom well.

Here is the complete text of the new law:

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A “burden” shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.

The Senate vote to override the veto was 32 – 6; the House vote was 79 – 15. To see how your State Senators and State Representatives voted on the bill itself and on the motion to override click here.

When Governor Beshear vetoed the bill he released a set of documents from those urging him to veto the bill.  Click here to see what organizations and others said to the Governor about HB 279. He did not release documents – records of phone calls, email, letters – from the many Kentuckians asking that he sign the legislation.


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