Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

RFRA Bill Heading to Senate Floor

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

RFRA Bill Heading to Senate Floor

Article excerpt

After voting down an amendment that would have prevented the law from being used to discriminate, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday night approved and sent to the Senate floor a contentious bill that proponents say would protect religious freedom. House Bill 4012 establishes a legal process for courts to follow when a person or business feels state action is violating their religious beliefs. The law would establish a balancing test for courts to use when determining whether the person is being substantially burdened by state action, and whether the state has "compelling governmental interest in ensuring the law is followed.

"State action could include civil rights laws, including local LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, so civil rights advocates fear the law will be used to allow discrimination against the LGBT community and other historically discriminated-against groups. Proponents of the bill have openly said support stems from opposition of same-sex marriage.

After hours of debate, the committee passed the bill with a vote of 12-4.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D- Kanawha, introduced an amendment that would have clarified the law could not be used to discriminate. He said he wanted to add a section that specified the law could not be used to deny another person services or rights granted to them by existing law. The amendment was voted down 9-7.

"It shows that the point of the bill is to discriminate, said Del. Stephen Skinner, a D-Jefferson County and the state's first openly gay lawmaker.

Jennifer Meinig, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said staff members at the organization were saddened that the committee "decided to reject fairness for all West Virginians.

"If the purpose of the bill is to purportedly protect religious freedom, we should all remember the Golden Rule, she said. …

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