First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting fight over "religious freedom" legislation in Kentucky, which isn't quite what it appears to be.
As in every state, residents of Kentucky already enjoy religious liberty under the First Amendment, but conservatives in the state legislature decided to craft a proposal that would empower Kentuckians with "sincerely held" religious beliefs to disregard state laws and regulations. In effect, if a law conflicted with the tenets of your faith as you interpret them, your conscience would trump your obligation to follow the law.
This wouldn't mean folks could just run red lights and tell the police their "sincerely held" beliefs trump traffic lights -- the legislation has a few safeguards, though critics argue they're overly vague -- but as my friend Rob Boston at Americans United for Separation of Church and State recently explained, the Kentucky proposal could carry widespread consequences.
What are some of the things that could happen if this bill becomes law? A pharmacist could refuse to provide Plan B drugs to a rape victim. The owner of an apartment building could refuse to rent to an unmarried couple. A woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock could be summarily fired from her job. The measure would also largely nullify protections for gays and lesbians that a handful of Kentucky communities have passed.
In short, the bill could end up elevating the religious beliefs of some people over the civil rights of all.
The bill nevertheless passed the legislature, largely with Republican support, but also with the backing of some conservative Democrats. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) then vetoed the measure, citing "serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care and individuals' civil rights," and the need to avoid "costly litigation" the state would likely lose.
In response, the legislature overrode the veto this week, and it will become state law in 90 days. Religious right activists who lobbied aggressively for the measure have vowed to "move along with the rest of the country," taking their proposal to other states.
Expect some interesting lawsuits to soon follow.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Pope Francis is causing a stir in Roman Catholic circles by breaking with some of Benedict XVI's agenda of reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions. The AP reported yesterday, "Francis' decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls -- a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic -- during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw."
* Speaking of the Catholic Church, a suspended Roman Catholic priest in Connecticut is facing criminal charges after allegedly taking in more than $300,000 from sales of methamphetamine (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer generally opposes government intervention in private enterprise, but argued this week that viewing pornography "ought to be against the law."
* And President Obama this morning devoted his weekly address to extending Easter and Passover well wishes, adding that this weekend can be a "chance to embrace loved ones, give thanks for our blessings, and help those less fortunate as we celebrate our individual traditions as well as the thread of humanity that connects us all."