FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX 56) — A section of Kentucky’s constitution still allows people to be punished for a crime with slavery. A Lexington church group is working with lawmakers to try and change that.
While slavery itself is illegal in Kentucky, there’s a carve-out in the constitution that’s been there since 1891 that allows slavery as a criminal punishment.
“We decided, if we don’t change it, who will? So, we decided to go and fix it,” Kennedy Fuqua told FOX 56 News.
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It started with a mission trip last year to learn about civil rights history in the place once known as the “City of Segregation,” Birmingham, Alabama. The youth group was so moved that a month later, South Elkhorn Christian Church Minister Michael Swartzentruber delivered a sermon on a forgiving slave owner from scripture, Philemon, where Kentucky’s slavery provision also came up.
“We had a conversation following that sermon, and the youth, as audacious as it sounds, decided maybe we can change that. Maybe we can do something,” Swartzentruber said.
That sermon happened a year ago. Since then, the youth group has connected with the Fayette Human Rights Commission and began having the conversations with lawmakers that led to a hearing before the state legislature’s Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity.
“Maybe some of you didn’t know this was still in the Kentucky state constitution. And I get that. I didn’t know this until last year. That being said, it is still important to amend the section, even though it’s often overlooked. It’s all about the what-ifs, though many might say no one would use the section for the worst. What if they did?” Fuqua said during her testimony on November 6th.
“I was very nervous. I was shaking a little bit; it was fun though,” she later told FOX 56.
The process to change the constitution will require both a bill to pass the legislature and a ballot question for voters. As lawmakers cheered the effort, some also voiced caution and consideration for how the question was posed.
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“If we prohibit or forbid involuntary servitude, are we forbidding people to work in prisons?” Sen. David Givens asked for a scenario during the meeting.
“We’re under no illusion that that process won’t have hurdles and issues and may stretch out and may be long. But we’re prepared to see it through. We’re prepared to learn as we go,” Swartzentruber said.
While this is not the first attempt to cut out slavery from Kentucky’s constitution, the group is hopeful their push may be the last. The group is working with Lexington lawmaker Rep. Killian Timoney to get the initial bill off the ground.