Friday, January 14, 2000

Baptists' bill finds gray area

Exemption would skirt civil rights

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — Baptists in Boone County have inspired a proposed state law that would allow churches to skirt civil rights laws by refusing to rent facilities such as church camps to groups they differ with on religious beliefs.

        The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Kerr, D-Taylor Mill, passed the House Judiciary Committee 10-3 Thursday and now heads to the full House of Representatives.

        It exempts church groups from certain civil rights laws, Mr. Kerr said.

        The two Northern Kentucky lawmakers on the committee, Mr. Kerr and Fort Thomas Republican Rep. Joe Fischer, voted for the bill.

        “We're not trying to exclude anybody based on race, creed, sex or anything like that,” said the Rev. Wayne Lipscomb, pastor of the Union Baptist Church in Boone County, who testified before the House panel.

        But a Baptist organization that includes the Rev. Lipscomb's church doesn't want to have to rent its church camp in western Boone County to groups that are opposed to the religious beliefs of Southern Baptists.

        “We firmly believe that religious organizations should not have to be uncomfortably associated with groups that are fundamentally different from those principles that we hold dear to our souls and our hearts,” said Fort Mitchell lawyer Robert Winter, who represents the Bullittsburg Baptist Assembly church camp in Boone County.

        The camp is owned by the Northern Kentucky Baptist Association, a group of 66 area Baptist churches.

        Four years ago, it reluctantly rented its church camp to a group that does not believe in God.

        The Baptists were uncom fortable about renting the camp to the group but did so out of fear of being sued under state civil rights laws.

        “That's the kind of situation we want to avoid in the future, but we need this bill to avoid litigation,” Mr. Winter said.

        The bill would not allow the Baptists to exclude other religions that believe in a “supreme being,” such as Roman Catholics or Jews, the Rev. Mr. Lipscomb said.

        Groups the Baptists differ with on political grounds, such as the Ku Klux Klan, could also not be turned down.

        “But we wouldn't have to rent to group that is 180 degrees different from what we believe in when it comes to our basic religious belief in God,” Mr. Winter said.

        The bill has its opponents.

        The Kentucky Human Rights Commission opposes the bill, Mr. Winter said.

        And Jeff Vessels, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky, testified against the bill, saying it could be used as a “tool of hatred.”

        “The ACLU is deeply concerned about this very broadly worded bill, that it will roll back basic civil rights for all Kentuckians,” Mr. Vessels told the committee.

        “This bill does serious damage to the commonwealth's progress and is a clear retreat from equal rights for all Kentuckians based on their race, national origin, color, religion, disability and more,” he said.

        “This bill makes religion a tool of hatred.”

        Rep. Kathy Stein, a liberal Democrat from Lexington, voted against the bill, which she called unrealistic in today's society.

        “There is a large segment of people who believe we should merely go back to the '50s, when times were good, when women knew their place, when African-Americans knew their place, when religious minorities knew their place,” Ms. Stein said.

        “I'm very deeply, philosophically in disagreement with those people, and I do not want to start moving in that direction,” she said.


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