"The Religious Freedom Act," a bill created in response to the Affordable Care Act's birth control coverage mandate, cleared Kentucky's Senate Thursday night despite activists' warning that it could topple years of civil rights progress in the state and "make discrimination legal."

"[The] legislation could be used by an individual or entity under the guise of a 'sincerely held religious belief' to violate the constitutional and civil rights of other persons or organizations," the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights warned on Tuesday. "In other words, it could make discrimination legal if the discrimination perpetrated is claimed to be due to 'a sincerely held religious belief.'"

Despite the potential for abuse, state senators advanced House Bill 279 Thursday night by a vote of 29-6, leaving its fate in the hands of Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

The bill originated as a response to a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires health insurance policies offer contraception to women free of charge -- a measure that some religious organizations objected to, despite a compromise that places the financial burden on insurance companies.

Kentucky Democrats joined with Republicans in the General Assembly to pass House Bill 279 by a vote of 82-7 last week. It's not clear whether the governor will sign it into law.

If it does become law, Kentucky's "Religious Freedom Act" could enable discrimination against more than just women seeking birth control. Civil rights advocates worry that landlords and employers could also use the law to justify discriminating against LGBT people and minorities as well, all in the name of "religious freedom."


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