Supporters say Kansas religious freedom bill needed to fight Obama policies

Published: Friday, Feb. 17 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

TOPEKA, Kan. — Supporters of a proposal in Kansas that's described as an attempt to protect religious freedoms told state legislators Tuesday that President Barack Obama's ill-fated mandate for insurance coverage of birth control is a compelling example of why the measure is needed.

But gay rights advocates said the primary goal of the conservative and religious groups pushing the bill continues to be nullifying local ordinances or university policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The House Judiciary Committee had a hearing on the proposed "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act" and is expected to vote on it by next Monday. Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, contends the measure simply writes into state law language from past Kansas court decisions for determining when government policies place too much of a burden on practicing religion.

Still, neither supporters nor opponents are treating the measure as a straightforward restatement of existing legal standards. The gay rights group Kansas Equality Coalition mobilized members to lobby against it, and the measure has the backing of conservative groups like the Kansas Family Policy Council and Concerned Women for America.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and the Kansas Catholic Conference also weighed in, and both cited the Obama administration's recent decision to require religiously affiliated groups such as colleges and charities to offer employees health plans that cover contraceptives. In response to protests, the president last Friday said he would accommodate the faith-run groups by having insurance companies bear the cost of providing birth control coverage.