Consistent with his record in opposition to LGBT rights, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday signed into law a “religious freedom” bill seen to enable discrimination against LGBT students in his state’s public universities.
Brownback didn’t sign the bill quietly: The governor signed the measure during a ceremony surrounded by lawmakers and lobbyists for the Kansas Catholic Conference and the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas joined him for the announcement.
“Religious liberty is part of the essence of who we are as a nation and as a state,” Brownback said. “At our founding, people coming to the United States came here seeking religious liberty. I’m pleased to sign SB 175 today, the Campus Religious Freedom Bill, ensuring that college students can also enjoy this bedrock American principle.”
At a time when nearly 200 anti-LGBT bills have been pending before state legislatures, Brownback’s decision to sign SB 175 makes him the first governor this year to sign into law legislation enabling discrimination against LGBT people.
The legislation, SB 175, would prohibit postsecondary schools from taking adverse action against religious student associations, such as denying them meeting places or official recognition, if these associations reject members who don’t “adhere to the association’s sincerely held religious beliefs.” Critics say the measure would enable these associations to refuse membership to LGBT students at taxpayer-funded public institutions.
Brownback during the signing ceremony disputed the measure would enable discrimination, saying “that is inaccurate.”
“This is a very good narrow, targeted piece of legislation that will serve the betterment of college campuses in the state,” Brownback continued.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, blasted Brownback for signing the measure, calling it a “shameful decision” that disadvantages tens of thousands of students attending school in Kansas.
“History has never looked kindly on leaders who promote discrimination, and Gov. Brownback has recklessly abandoned his responsibility to ensure all students are treated with dignity and respect,” Griffin said. “This is a dark day for Kansas, and we must find a path to eventually seeing that this deplorable law is ripped out and thrown away.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, the bill jeopardizes non-discrimination policies put in place by many Kansas educational institutions, including the Kansas Board of Regents and the University of Kansas. These institutions prohibit student organizations from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity to continue receiving financial and other support.
Brownback has a history of opposing LGBT rights. Last year, Brownback made one of his first orders of business in his second term reversing an executive order instituted by former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius prohibiting discrimination against LGBT state workers.
Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said signing SB 175 into law is just the latest move from Brownback to enable anti-LGBT discrimination in the state.
“The Brownback administration has spent six years trying to write discrimination into Kansas law,” Witt said. “Singling out college students with a bill that forces them to fund groups that actively discriminate against them is bigoted and shameful. This is a sad day for Kansas.”