West Virginia ‘religious freedom’ bill headed to governor

by | Mar 1, 2023 | Religion

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia bill described by supporters as a tool to protect religious freedom and labeled a “license to discriminate” by LGBTQ rights advocates is headed to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice.The “Equal Protection for Religion Act,” wasn’t expected to receive a vote until later in the session, but the GOP-supermajority Senate suspended legislative rules in order to vote on the bill Tuesday, just a day after it had passed in the House of Delegates.
The measure passed with support from every present Republican in the 34-member Senate. The only ‘no’ votes came from the Senate’s three Democrats, two of whom questioned why the bill was moving through the Legislature at lightning speed — typically measures have to be read multiple times on different days prior to getting a vote.
Before voting no, Democratic Sen. Mike Caputo of Marion County said he had “major, major, major concerns.”
“Quite frankly, I think this is hogwash, and I think the way this has been spun is disingenuous and upsetting,” he said.
The bill stipulates that the government would not be able to “substantially burden” someone’s constitutional right to freedom of religion unless doing so “in a particular situation is essential to further a compelling governmental interest.”
In cases where the government can prove to the courts there is a “compelling interest” to restrict that right, government officials must demonstrate that religious freedoms are being infringed upon in “the least restrictive means” possible.
At least 23 other states hav …

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