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Kansas House OKs Campus Faith Groups Restricting Membership

TOPEKA, Kan. ― Kansas lawmakers on Wednesday approved a long-delayed proposal allowing faith-based groups on college campuses to restrict their membership to like-minded people.

Nearly a year after the Senate approved the bill, the Republican-controlled House voted 81-41 to send the bill to Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong supporter of religious rights. Supporters have said the bill is a victory for the freedom to exercise religious beliefs, but opponents said it’s a veiled attempt to legalize discrimination.

The conservative Republican governor hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the bill, though he spoke at a Statehouse rally last month that was held to highlight the need to protect people who cite religious objections when refusing to provide goods or services, such as flowers for same-sex weddings. Brownback ended the rally by urging activists to continue fighting for “religious liberty.”

The bill stems from a handful of on-campus incidents in Kansas, including a lawsuit filed by a Christian group after Washburn University said the group couldn’t require that student members recognize the Bible, not the Book of Mormon, as the word of God. The issue emerged after a Mormon student was forbidden from leading the group’s Bible study.

Kansas enacted a religious objections law in 2013 that prevents the state or local governments from limiting people’s freedom to express their religion, though the law doesn’t touch on organizations at universities.

Supporters of the measure approved Wednesday said it was created in response to pressure on school religious organizations to accept anyone as a member, even if their beliefs conflict with those of the group. Critics argued the bill allows groups that are funded by taxpayer dollars to discriminate and could jeopardize federal funding.

The bill’s approval follows religious objections laws that were approved in Arkansas and Indiana last year that drew the ire of protesters who said they allowed discrimination against gays and lesbians. Both states revised their laws following the criticism, although they still allow religious objections.

This year, the Missouri Senate passed a proposal to include religious protection in the state constitution for those who object to gay marriage.

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