June 11, 2013

Richmond gay-rights activist Scottie Wayne Saltsman dies at 44

Scottie Wayne Saltsman, 44, of Richmond, who had been honored as Ambassador of Goodwill by the Kentucky Equality Federation last week, died Sunday of cancer.

Mr. Saltsman was a former Kentucky State police officer and had been a supervisor at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training and a law enforcement instructor at Eastern Kentucky University, his alma mater.

He was co-chair of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance and volunteered for various other fairness organizations and movements.

Mr. Saltsman had been secretary of the Richmond Human Rights Commission but resigned last year when the commission refused to extend protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer said goodwill ambassador is the organization's highest honor.

David Corbett, chairperson of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, said Mr. Saltsman "did everything and anything he could do to help" the alliance: "lick envelopes, send letters, and (he) was always there when you needed him, but he never really took the limelight."

Mr. Saltsman was alive to receive the goodwill ambassador distinction June 3, but the plaque was presented to his mother Linda Pedigo Saltsman at his request, Palmer said.

"It's an amazing feeling to accept something for my son and to get that plaque honoring him," Linda Saltsman said.

Other Kentucky goodwill ambassadors include former state Treasurer Jonathan Miller and Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington.

Originally from Glasgow, Mr. Saltsman graduated from EKU, where he was described as being an "open, compassionate and accepting educator" by ex-EKU professor Marta Miranda.

Mr. Saltsman is survived by his parents, Jimmy and Linda Pedigo Saltsman, and a brother, Tony Saltsman.

The funeral is at 1 p.m. CDT Wednesday at Hatcher & Saddler Funeral Home in Glasgow with burial in the Big Meadow Cemetery. Expressions of sympathy may be made to the Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial Fund at www.klemf.org.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/06/11/2675013/richmond-gay-rights-activist-scottie.html#storylink=cpy

March 30, 2013

Kentucky's religious freedom bill divided politicians, public, ministers

FRANKFORT — The Rev. Patrick Delahanty of Louisville says he thinks the new state law dubbed the Religious Freedom Act is needed.

"I want the state to meet the highest bar in its ability to interfere with one's religion," said Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, which backed the bill.

But the Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper of Lexington says the new law "teeters on the verge of religious fascism" and thinks it will open the doors for people to discriminate against others in the name of God.

Kemper, minister of New Union Christian Church in Woodford County and former director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, said she was voicing only her opinions and not those of the council or her church.

The strong disagreement between the two well-respected religious leaders underscores what was the most contentious issue in this year's General Assembly — House Bill 279.

On the final night of the state legislative session Tuesday, lawmakers in the House and Senate overwhelmingly rebuffed Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear by overriding his veto of the one-paragraph bill that will become law in about three months.

The vote in the House was 79-15; in the Senate, 32-6. Almost all of the legislators siding with the governor were from urban areas or are minorities.

Most lawmakers were afraid politically to let the governor's veto stand, said Democratic consultant Danny Briscoe of Louisville, "because they feared it would hurt their chances of getting re-elected. This state is becoming increasingly conservative, so politicians are reluctant to do anything to go against that trend."

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Covington Mayor Sherry Carran and the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky League of Cities and more than 50 other groups urged Beshear to veto HB 279.

Beshear said he supported religious freedom but worried that the bill had too many "unintended consequences" and could cost governments money in expensive and prolonged lawsuits.

Legislators who opposed the bill echoed Beshear's concerns.

During debate on HB 279 on Tuesday, Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, said HB 279 was a solution to a problem that didn't exist.

"This is a piece of legislation looking for a reason," Owens said. "Because there is no reason for it, other than what I perceive to be pandering to a certain segment of this community."

Owens said there have been cases where people have cited religious beliefs to not comply with certain laws — such as a man who didn't want to get his picture taken for his driver's license because it was against his religious beliefs. That case went to the courts, Owens said.

Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, said that she, too, was concerned that cities, counties and the state will be forced to go to court every time someone cites a religious belief so he doesn't have to comply with a law.

"It will cost them money that they don't have," Palumbo said.

But Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said House Bill 279 was needed because religious freedoms were being curtailed in Kentucky.

Prayer and the Bible have been taken out of schools, and people can no longer practice their faith in public, he said.

"There have been attempts to take God out of everything," Lee said. "There have been attempts to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Can you believe that?"

Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said she still questions the motivations behind the bill. Lexington, Louisville, Covington and Vicco have local ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. State and federal civil rights laws do not protect people based on sexual orientation. Those local ordinances are the only protection for the gay, lesbian and transgender community, she and other opponents of the bill said.

"I think this is about some way to get around the fairness ordinances," Stein said. It gives anyone opposed to them "a terrific, terrific defense," she said.

The law's supporters deny that's the case.

Delahanty said the law is needed in light of the Kentucky Supreme Court ruling last year that upheld a state law requiring the Amish to display bright orange safety triangles on their buggies so motorists could better see them.

Several Amish men in rural Western Kentucky felt so strongly that displaying the triangles violated their religious belief against calling attention to themselves that they went to jail rather than comply with the law.

"That high court ruling lowered the standard by which the state could infringe on the free exercise of religion," Delahanty said.

Backers of the bill say 16 other states and the federal government have similar laws. Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, sponsor of HB 279, said those states have seen few if any court cases after a religious freedom bill is passed.

A law professor at Wayne State University looked at 16 states with religious freedom laws and found that they have been a disappointment for those who have pushed for their passage.

In the 2010 study, Christopher Lund, the article's author, found that four of those states reported no lawsuits. Six of those states reported two or fewer court cases where religious freedom was claimed as a defense. Moreover, the courts overwhelmingly sided against people who were using religious freedom as a defense, Lund's study said.

But Stein, who is a lawyer, said that the law review articles on religious freedom bills did not look at the differences in wording of those state religious freedom laws. Kentucky's bill is broader and more vague than the federal religious freedom act passed in 1993, Beshear said when he vetoed HB 279.

Stein also noted that many discrimination cases are not pursued in the courts or even with local human rights commissions.

Just because there have not been legal cases doesn't mean that religion has not been used as a basis for discrimination in those 16 other states, she said.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said that the fairness group will be the first to challenge the law if the group receives a complaint.

"Kentucky Equality Federation's legal department will sue the commonwealth of Kentucky with the first complaint we receive that House Bill 279 has been used to justify discrimination, termination, or school bullying regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity," he said.

Delahanty said he does not think the gay and lesbian community should be concerned about the new law.

"I'm not suggesting that gay people are not looked down on in some quarters in America. I know the gay community has suffered enough, but this law does not do away with laws against discrimination," he said.

Text of religious freedom law
Government shall not substantially burden a person's freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A "burden" shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.

Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/03/30/2580631/kentuckys-religious-freedom-bill.html#storylink=cpy

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March 25, 2013

Kentucky Gov. Beshear vetoes religious freedom bill

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed a controversial religious-freedom bill Friday afternoon, saying the measure was well-intended but would spark costly taxpayer-funded court cases and bring an array of unintended consequences.

"I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care and individuals' civil rights," Beshear said in a statement. "As written, the bill will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation."

House Bill 279 would allow someone with "sincerely held" religious beliefs to disregard state laws "unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing" the person's religious freedom. Gay rights and human rights groups have said the bill could be used to challenge local anti-discrimination laws that protect gays and lesbians in Lexington, Louisville, Covington and Vicco.

The sponsor of House Bill 279, Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, said he thinks he'll have the 51 votes required to override the veto if House leaders decide to take a vote. Damron said Beshear, a Democrat, did not ask him or Democratic House leaders to refrain from trying to override the bill during a conversation of more than an hour Friday in the governor's Capitol office.

In a written statement, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said, "The Senate is prepared to override the veto of HB 279 if and when the speaker moves to do so. As a House bill, that chamber must act on the bill first."

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a statement that Democratic leaders "will be discussing what action to take with our caucus."

The House passed the bill this month with only seven dissenting votes. The Republican-led Senate passed it 29-6.

Lawmakers return to Frankfort on Monday for the final two days of the legislative session. Damron said there will be enough time to override the veto by midnight Tuesday.

Conservative groups that backed the bill criticized Beshear on Friday.

"It won't be comforting for many Kentuckians to know that the ACLU is now calling the shots in the governor's office," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation. "Religious people should not have to ask permission from the ACLU and gay rights groups to believe what they believe."

Damron said the concerns of opponents are unfounded. Sixteen states have passed similar laws, but none of those states have seen a flood of lawsuits after the bills were passed, Damron said.

But Beshear said in a news release that HB 279 is "fundamentally different" than related federal and state laws, "mostly because the vague language of HB 279 lends itself to overly broad applications."

He said the bill offers no exceptions for certain state agencies or civil rights laws, or for the protection and safety of the general public.

"Imprecise legal standards lead to unforeseen consequences," Beshear said. "Citizens and governmental entities are entitled to a clear understanding of the boundaries of permissible conduct. This bill, as written, while well-intended, is undermined by precarious legal wording."

He said the bill had the potential to weaken local civil rights laws, affect curriculum standards in schools, hamper economic development efforts, hinder public health initiatives and undermine enforcement of drug laws.

Beshear released a list of more than 50 groups that either opposed the bill or asked him to veto it. Those groups include the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky League of Cities, the Kentucky Education Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a variety of gay rights organizations, sexual assault groups and fair housing groups.

In addition, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and the Covington City Council asked Beshear to veto the bill. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who is gay, came under criticism from some advocacy groups for not publicly asking Beshear to veto it.

Gay rights groups applauded Beshear on Friday.

"Both Republicans and Democrats need to think carefully before deciding to override a veto since the governor and his legal staff has listened to both sides of the argument," said Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation. "Gov. Beshear is pushing Kentucky to once again be a leader in civil rights protection for minorities throughout the commonwealth by not infringing on their city equality ordinances in Covington, Lexington, Louisville and Vicco."

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/03/25/186805/kentucky-gov-beshear-vetoes-religious.html#storylink=cpy

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February 24, 2013

Equality Rally Held In Frankfort

Lawmakers may not be in session this weekend but that doesn't mean the capitol is quiet.

The Kentucky Equality Federation held a rally Saturday afternoon at the steps of the capitol building.

They say they are marching for a statewide equality law and for equal rights for women.

"We picked a Saturday just because we wanted people who work during the week, working families and students to be able to attend an event that they wanted to attend," says Jordan Palmer, with Kentucky Equality Federation.

News Link to Lex18: http://www.lex18.com/news/equality-rally-held-in-frankfort/

Kentuckians Protest

Some Kentuckians rallied for women's rights today on the state capitol steps.

They were protesting bills that would require women to have an ultrasound and meet with a physician before getting an abortion.

They were showing support for two other bills that would add sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.

The event was hosted by the "Kentuckians Against the War on Woman" and the Kentucky Equality Federation.

News Link: ABC 36: http://www.wtvq.com/content/localnews/story/Kentuckians-Protest-War-On-Women/sIoT5Qimr0O1Uj6MySfU0g.cspx

February 8, 2013

Logan schools asked to stop Gideons by Kentucky Equality Federation

An incident at the Auburn School in November has resulted in the Logan County School Board getting a “cease and desist” letter from the Kentucky Equality Federation.

The letter, which is dated Jan. 31, 2013, asks the school system to stop allowing Bibles to be handed out on school grounds.

According to Logan County superintendent Marshall Kemp, the Gideons were at the Auburn school in November handing out Bibles.

“The Gideons have given Bibles out for a very long time in our schools,” Kemp said. “The proper way is on a voluntary basis, where they put the Bibles on a table and if a child wants it, they can pick it up.”

Kemp said that it was legal for the group to come to a school, set up a table with Bibles on it and allow them to be handed out passively to any student that wishes to take one.

“It wasn’t done that way at Auburn,” Kemp said. “One was handed to each child.”

A parent, referred to only as “Ms. Alms” in the cease and desist letter, then apparently contacted the Kentucky Equality Federation about the incident.

“I believe in God and I know God loves all people. I am a practicing Christian, and I also practice Taoism. However, a public school is not the proper venue to distribute religious materials of any type,” Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer said in a news release. “This practice will cease immediately or I will instruct our legal department to sue the Logan County School District. I will teach my children about religion at home. We again are notifying the Kentucky Department of Education and the Office of Kentucky Education Secretary, Mr. Joseph U. Meyer.”

According to its website, the Kentucky Equality Federation is, “Kentucky’s largest all-volunteer grassroots lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (“LGBTI”) civil rights and advocacy organization for both social and political equality. Kentucky Equality Federation is a diverse organization consisting of several corporations and groups with a common cause for Peace, Liberty, and Equality for All.”

Kemp said this was the first time anyone had complained about the Gideons giving away Bibles in the school system.

Kemp said that in the past, he has sent out information to principals about the correct way of allowing the Bibles to be distributed.

“I don’t remember exactly when I did that, though, and some of our newer principals may not have gotten that,” Kemp said.

Kemp said as far as he knows, the Gideons have not requested to hand out Bibles in the Logan County schools since the November incident.

“Not to my knowledge - no one has told me if they have,” Kemp said. “They don’t ask me in the first place, though. They ask the principals and the principals are supposed to know how to handle it so that this sort of things doesn’t happen.”

Kemp said he was unsure what the school system would do going forward.

He said that the matter could be left up to the individual schools’ site-based decision making councils - or the school board may make a policy for the entire district.

Read more: News Democrat Leader - Logan schools asked to stop Gideons (Subscribe to the News Democrat Leader)

February 1, 2013

An Organization is Urging Logan County Schools to Stop Alleged Distribution of Bibles in School

It was at Auburn Elementary where one parent claims a small red Gideon's bible sparked controversy.

"In November, my son came home with a red Gideon Bible that he says was brought into his classroom by a man with a box, and the students were told if they wanted to accept it, they could come up to the front of the class and accept it," said concerned parent Heather Alms.

Alms says this puts young students in a compromising position.

"That puts that 10-year-old in a position where they have to choose whether or not to go up to the front of the class and take a Bible, that their family may not practice. They may not read that Bible," said Alms.

That's a position she says no child should be left in.

"It's not about religion, it's about providing an opportunity to learn in a safe environment where children are not isolated or ostracized due to cultural differences," said Alms.

Kentucky Equality Federation it's a legal issue. Palmer says the distribution of religious material in a public school violates section 5 of the Kentucky Constitution.

"First of all, that's not legal or constitutional, but even if it were, if they can legally hand out one religious publication, then they can also hand out other religious publications." "Our order to them was to cease and desist immediately the distribution of, or permitting the distribution of any religious material in any manner to any student in the school district," said Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer.

This request came after Alms notified the Kentucky Equality Federation of her concerns.

Palmer says now they are awaiting a response from Logan County Schools and will take further legal action if their requests are not met.

The superintendent of Logan County Schools declined to comment, other than to say they are working with the school board's attorney to evaluate their options, and plan to respond to the Kentucky Equality Federation with their decision soon.

News link:  WBKO

Watch: WBKO

January 16, 2013

Tiny Appalachian city enacts gay rights ordinance

Written by AP reports and Advocate.com

A tiny city in southeastern Kentucky has enacted an LGBT rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The city commission of Vicco in southern Perry County passed the new law on Jan. 14. The population, according to the last census, is 334 people.

Three of four commissioners voted in favor of the ordinance, which bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations in the city. City attorney Eric Ashley says the community believes all people should be treated fairly.

Meanwhile, an effort to pass an LGBT civil rights law at the state level has stalled in Kentucky House of Representatives.

"The commonwealth of Kentucky was the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to pass a civil rights act, the Kentucky Civil Rights Act of 1966,” stated Kentucky Equality Federation president Jordan Palmer. “The Kentucky Civil Rights Act was signed into law by Gov. Edward T. Breathitt, and prohibits discrimination and protects people from discrimination based on race, national origin, color and religion."

Since then, the civil rights law has been amended and expanded, but repeated efforts to include sexual orientation and gender identity failed.

Palmer said, "I urge the commonwealth’s lawmakers to willfully place Kentucky back in the forefront of civil rights… .If our lawmakers want to show Kentucky sovereignty and freedom, do it now before the order to do so is handed down by the courts."

Complete News Link: http://www.wisconsingazette.com/national-gaze/tiny-appalachian-city-enacts-gay-rights-ordinance.html

Complete News Link:  http://lezgetreal.com/2013/01/ky-equality-federation-starts-petition-to-change-state-civil-rights-act/

January 15, 2013

Paducah middle school receives high marks for responding to school bullying

By Amber Ruch, KFVS12
By Lez Get Real

KFVS - CBS Affiliate

MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KY (KFVS) - Kentucky Equality Federation officials recently contacted Paducah Middle School about bullying complaints.

According to KEF, the complaint was pulled from the School Bullying Committee and handled directly by KEF President Jordan Palmer and Attorney Jillian Hall, vice president of legal due to the severity of one of the complaints. They say that complaint was a child saying she was considering suicide.

For a copy of the letter Kentucky Equality Federation sent to the school, you can click here.

"School officials immediately responded and took swift action," said Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer. "We cannot stress enough the impact school bullying has on the Commonwealth's youth and sincerely thank Paducah Middle School, from the school attorney, school principal, guidance counselors, and other members of the school in administration for their immediate action. Paducah Middle School should be a model to the rest of the schools in the Commonwealth for their swift action and immediate response. It is possible a life was saved due to their immediate response to our letter.”

Palmer continued: "Regardless of the circumstances, children need to know they can go to school officials with bullying. It must be reported to the principal who must then report it to the County Attorney for investigation. The attitude to enforce Kentucky law however is set from the principal down and we again applaud Principal Tim Huddleston, Paducah Middle School's faculty and staff, and their legal representation, Mark Whitlow, an outstanding individual."

Complete News Link: http://mccracken.kfvs12.com/news/news/60775-paducah-middle-school-receives-high-marks-responding-school-bullying

Complete News Link: http://lezgetreal.com/2013/01/after-lgbt-group-gets-involved-paducah-schools-tackle-bullying-problem/