The West Virginia House of Delegates on
Thursday overwhelmingly approved a “religious freedom” bill
opponents say would allow for discrimination against the LGBT
Sixteen Democrats joined a majority of
Republicans in approving the bill, which now heads to the Senate.
Supporters of the West Virginia
Religious Freedom Restoration Act (HB 4012) argue that it's needed to
protect the free exercise of religion.
The bill states that the state “may
not substantially burden a person's right to exercise of religion”
without a “compelling interest.”
House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, a
Republican from Morgan, said from the House floor on Wednesday that
the bill was about First Amendment rights, but other backers have
directly linked the proposed legislation to gay rights.
The constitution “doesn't guarantee
anyone's right to have any particular kind of lifestyle or behavior
protected,” said House Majority Whip John O'Neal, a Republican from
Raleigh,”but it guarantees the free exercise of religion. That
freedom has been severely curtailed in recent years with the growth
of gay rights and mandated contraception coverage under Obamacare,
among other things.”
Virginia Republican John O'Neal: Christians can lose their businesses
over “who they love.”)
Lawmakers on Wednesday rejected
amendments aimed at clarifying that the law could not supersede local
nondiscrimination ordinances, seven of which include protections for
the LGBT community.