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Protesters gather in Topeka to oppose ‘Religious Freedom’ bill

Nearly 100 people crowded on the Capitol steps Thursday to protest what they called “legislative hate.”

The group, many members or allies of the LGBT community, waved rainbow flags and had strong words for legislators looking to pass SB 142, also called the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act.

Proponents of the bill say it attempts to protect the religious rights of Kansans. Those gathered in front of the Capitol, however, cited language within the bill that would allow renters, business owners and citizens to deny services to those who violate their religious tenets.

The bill states that Kansans cannot use religion to justify discrimination based on gender, race or ethnicity. But sexual orientation or gender identification receives no protection.

“It is legislative abuse, it is legislative bullying and it is legislative dictatorship and it should not be permitted,” said Pedro Irigonegaray of the Kansas Equality Coalition while addressing the crowd.

Bill author Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, said the Kansas Equality Commission and the crowd misunderstood the bill’s purpose

“They are wrong as both to the intent of the bill and the practical effect it would have,” he said. “We want to make sure that people of religious faith in Kansas are not subject to laws that discriminate against them based upon their exercising the right to practice their faith.”

Kinzer said he found it unlikely that the law would be used to discriminate. He said the bill would be more likely to protect Kansans from fines or legal proceedings if they did not wish to do business with those who violated their religious beliefs.

Kinzer also said the bill would protect Kansans from city ordinances that would prohibit or force them to participate in practices that violate their religious rights.

The bill includes language allowing Kansans to sue state institutions over laws or policies that curtail or would likely curtail their religious freedom. Under the bill, a city that has a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation could be sued for violating a person’s religious freedom.

Kim Burton, a Republican, traveled from Wichita with her 2-year-old daughter Lucy to address what she saw as an infringement of state government on local government home rule.

“I’m concerned about the rights of my friends who are gay and lesbians being trampled on. I don’t think it should be legal to evict them from apartments if they are gay. It’s almost like the state government is coming down on municipal governments and saying you are not allowed to protect them anymore, and I think that is a shame.”

The bill has passed the House on a 91-33 vote. It could be debated in a Senate committee, then sent to the Senate floor.