Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Wants a Slavery Provision Removed from the State Constitution

Aug 24, 2015

Kentucky Commission on Human Rights executive director John J. Johnson
Credit Ky Commission on Human Rights

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights’ governing board wants to see a change to a section of the state constitution that allows slavery as criminal punishment.

Section 25 of the Kentucky Constitution's Bill of Rights reads, “Slavery and involuntary servitude in this State are forbidden, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” The text was ratified in August 1891.

The commission unanimously passed a resolution Thursday urging Kentuckians to get rid of the provision and issued a statement saying its removal would be another step toward expunging “all vestiges of the cruel and immoral institution of slavery" following this summer's racially-motivated church killings in Charleston, S.C.

Commission executive director John J. Johnson says he was recently surprised to learn of the provision’s presence in the state constitution.

“Someone called it to my attention a few months ago and I almost thought surely slavery is not still referenced in the Kentucky constitution and we looked it up and, sure enough, it was,” Johnson said.

“Why not remove it? There’s no need for it to be suggested that slavery is even legal as a punishment for a crime," Johnson said.

The commission also passed a resolution Thursday urging legislators to remove the statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis from the Capitol rotunda. The Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted earlier this month to keep the statue in the Capitol. A Bluegrass Poll found that 73 percent of Kentuckians favored leaving the statue where it is.

Johnson said the commission is currently assessing what their priorities will be for the upcoming General Assembly which begins in January.