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Why California Is Banning State Travel To Kentucky

Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

The attorney general of California has added Kentucky to a list of destinations banned from official state travel, saying a new religious expression law passed by the Kentucky General Assembly is discriminatory.

Senate Bill 17 was signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin this spring. Supporters say the legislation bolsters First Amendment protections for religious speech in public schools and universities.

Opponents have criticized the new law for language that protects religious and political student groups from being punished for how they select their members.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the Kentucky law could lead to discrimination.

“SB 17 could allow student-run organizations in colleges and K-12 schools to discriminate against classmates based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Becerra said.

Becerra also announced bans on state-funded travel to Texas, Alabama and North Dakota, citing the recent passage of laws that restrict adoption of children by LGBTQ couples.

Kentucky’s new law — which takes effect on June 29 — was filed in response to a 2015 controversy that arose in Johnson County over a school production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

School officials altered the script of the play to remove religious references, leading London Republican Sen. Albert Robinson to sponsor the bill.

Robinson defended the legislation in an interview on Friday. He said there's nothing in the bill that "requires or even permits any discrimination of anybody anywhere whatsoever.”

“I’m highly disappointed that the man would be so stupid,” Robinson said of Becerra. “He can read it and he can see there’s absolutely no discrimination in that bill.”

The ACLU and Fairness Campaign raised concerns about the legislation when it was proposed in the General Assembly.

Amber Duke, communications director for ACLU of Kentucky, said California’s ban shows there are financial costs for the new law.

“This travel ban represents an unforeseen consequence of passing discriminatory legislation,” said Duke. “And I hope moving forward, legislators would see this as a warning.”

Duke said the organization hasn’t decided to challenge the law, but it’s “certainly something we’ll keep an eye on.”

According to a release from Becerra's office, California's travel ban applies to state-funded and state-sponsored travel for the state's "agencies, departments, boards, authorities, and commissions, including an agency, department, board, authority, or commission of the University of California, the Board of Regents of the University of California, and the California State University."

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