Red State Passes Bill Aimed At Protecting Religious Liberty

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Kate Anderson Contributor
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The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed the West Virginia Senate Tuesday and will now head to the governor’s desk in a bid to protect religious Americans from being discriminated against by the government, according to the Associated Press.

The bill was introduced by Republican state Del. Jonathan Pinson in January as an effort to prevent the government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s free exercise of religion,” and provide protections for individuals of faith in addition to those provided by the First Amendment, according to the text. The RFRA passed the state House of Representatives on Feb. 27 by an overwhelming majority, according to the AP. State senators voted 31 to three Wednesday with all opposing votes from Democrats, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s desk. (RELATED: ‘God-Given Natural Right’: Catholic Nonprofit Asks Supreme Court To Protect Religious Freedoms In The Workplace)

The bill creates additional protections for religious Americans to exercise their sincerely held beliefs without fear of government attempts to limit or restrict those rights, according to West Virginia News. Under RFRA, the state would be prohibited from treating religious behavior differently than similar non-religious, or secular, behavior.

“No government entity may substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability unless it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is: Essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest,” the bill reads.

RFRA has been passed by 32 other states and former President Bill Clinton signed similar legislation into law in 1993, according to the Associated Press. Pinton’s bill gives religious citizens in the state the ability to assert excessive government “violation[s]” of religious beliefs as a defense in court or “administrative proceedings,” not including criminal prosecutions, as well as requiring the government to use the “least restrictive means” necessary to restrict religious exercise in the rare cases where the public good conflicts with religious beliefs.

CHARLESTON, WV – FEBRUARY 15: Queen speaks to members of the West Virginia Legislature at a screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary Short ‘Heroin(e)’ at the University of Charleston Auditorium on February 15, 2018, in Charleston, West Virginia. (Photo by Tom Hindman/Netflix via Getty Images)

Pinson said in a prepared statement sent to the Daily Caller News Foundation that he was “grateful” the bill had passed.

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a balancing test: the government cannot substantially burden the exercise of religious belief unless the government can prove that the burden serves a compelling government interest that is accomplished by the least restrictive means,” Pinson wrote. “Every West Virginian, regardless of their religious belief system, deserves to be able to live out their faith without fear of compulsion from the government. Further, every West Virginian is entitled to a fair hearing when government tries to impose a law that would otherwise violate their religious beliefs.”

Opponents of the bill have raised concerns that it will allow for discrimination against minorities, according to the Associated Press.

“I think it’s going to become the forefront of embarrassment again and show backwoods mentality for the state of West Virginia when I think we can simplify it all: Why don’t we all just try to get along?” Democratic Sen. Mike Woelfel told the AP. “Why don’t we all just let people be what they want to be, and let them love who they want to love and practice their religion the way they want to practice their religion?”

Justice did not immediately respond to the immediately DCNF’s request for comment.

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