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Proposed Kentucky Legislation Encourages Christian Bigotry

For the first two years of its existence, 1996 and 1997, Camp Quest , the only secular humanist summer camp in the United States, rented the camp facilities of the Bullittsburg Baptist Assembly in Boone County, Kentucky. Edwin and Helen Kagin, the founders and leaders of Camp Quest, also live in Boone County. From the beginning, Camp Quest and its sponsoring organization, the Free Inquiry Group (FIG) of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, presented themselves as secular humanists to the Bullittsburg Camp and its owners, the Northern Kentucky Baptist Association (NKBA). The Bullittsburg Camp and NKBA had Camp Quest sign a contract in which the NKBA acknowledged that they followed the public accommodations laws. Despite some minor problems, the arrangement between the secular humanist organizations and the Bullittsburg Camp proceeded amicably for the nine days each summer that Camp Quest used the camp facilities. During the second year, however, while relations with the camp staff remained cordial, it became clear that Camp Quest was not really welcomed at the Baptist Camp, so Camp Quest moved to a camp near Lebanon, Ohio, for the summer of 1998, and will hold its fifth session in 2000 at this Ohio site.

Camp Quest supporters and FIG members were surprised to learn from news reports on 14 January 2000, over 2 1/2 years after the last camp session in the Baptist facility, that the Northern Kentucky Baptists had experienced a “great deal of discomfort” at the presence of secular humanists in their summer camp. The Baptists complained that they were initially not made aware of the secular humanist nature of Camp Quest (a false claim), and that they only rented the property to Camp Quest because they were afraid of being sued (a belief that is entirely imaginary on their part). After two years of apparent discussion, the Baptists decided they now want the legal right to deny the use of their camp grounds to any organization that has a fundamental conflict with their religious beliefs. They therefore asked Kentucky Representative Thomas Kerr to sponsor legislation (House Bill 70) that exempts churches from the common anti-discrimination requirements of public accommodation laws. These statutes broadly state that if an organization rents its facilities to outside groups, it may not discriminate against them for the usual reasons of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious belief, medical disability, sexual orientation, and so forth. (Since many organizations, including churches, are private organizations, they may of course legally deny others the use of their private facilities if they use them exclusively for their own purposes and never rent them to outside groups. In the present case, the Bullittsburg Camp owned by the NKBA has frequently been leased to outside organizations, so the public accommodation anti-discrimination laws apply.)

Kerr’s HB 70 passed a Kentucky House committee and has been sent to the floor. The legislation is controversial, to say the least (in fact, it is unconstitutional), and it inspired newspaper articles and newspaper editorials. One of these editorials, in the Cincinnati Enquirer, spawned a host of responses from outraged readers in the form of letters to the editor. Since the Cincinnati Enquirer may not print all of the replies to its editorial, the writers have sent them to this website by email for posting on the web. The writers believe this latest episode in Christian bigotry should receive as much publicity as possible. Edwin Kagin has given permission to reprint all of the letters on his website. To reply yourself to the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial, go to http://enquirer.com/editor/letters.html.

Kentucky Reprsentative Kathy Stein has reported that Thomas Kerr and other Kentucky House Republicans filed HB 485 on 27 January. According to her, the new bill is a further retreat on Kentucky civil rights enforcement, since it dismantles legal protections against discrimination of persons based on sexual orientation (just as HB 70 did of persons based on religious belief). She believes Kentucky is being made a test case with this bill, which is stealthily crafted to steer clear of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Romer v. Evans.

Check this webpage for updates on this fast-breaking story. I will soon provide the text or links to the text of the two Kentucky bills, and will post further news reports, editorials, and letters as they come in. To interview Edwin Kagin for this story, reporters may call him at 606-384-7000 or email him at email removed.

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