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Right to Discriminate
by: Ciera Pennington
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – HB 4012 – has made its way through committee and is likely to appear on the House agenda for its first reading this week. This bill, which is similar to the one passed in Indiana, would allow individuals to not abide by local or state policies, laws, or actions that they claim violate their religious beliefs. Opponents of the bill, thus, fear the bill legalizing discrimination, especially against the LGBTQ community.
Regardless of what it may or may not do for either side, I keep coming back to the same question as I listen to committee hearings, participate in public hearings, and read articles and opinion editorials – is a RFRA needed in WV to protect our religious citizens? As an agnostic individual who practices no religion, I am aware I may not always see injustices against those who do practice.
Last Wednesday, as I listened to the House Judiciary Committee discuss HB 4012, I finally got some answers. It was stated that there has never been a case brought to court in WV from someone who felt their religious freedom had been violated. Additionally, I learned, not only does the First Amendment guarantee the right to religion, but we have a federal RFRA and two Supreme Court cases – Sherbert v. Verner and Wisconsin v. Yoder – that set precedents for protecting religious freedom all across our country. Why then is a RFRA needed in WV?
As someone who identifies as bisexual, I too fear this bill. It appears that the only reason the RFRA is needed in WV is to broaden the scope of the federal RFRA and two before-mentioned Supreme Court cases, thus allowing discrimination against LGBTQ individuals (and probably some other minorities). In a state that has no protections for me and my fellow LGBTQ mountaineers, I wonder why we aren’t a priority and what may come as a result.
This isn’t the only reason I fear the RFRA, though. Our state lags behind the majority of the country AND we are facing a major budget deficit; yet, we are focusing on trivial matters rather than some of our most pressing issues. As a millennial watching as my classmates graduate college and move out-of-state, I worry more and more that a RFRA and other unnecessary focuses will continue to push our youth and talent out the doors. As my friend, Dillon Muhly-Alexander recently stated, “If we, as a state, cannot retain our best, brightest and boldest, we have failed ourselves.” I hope our state legislators will work harder to ensure our success!
Want to stand in solidarity with your LGBTQ neighbors, friends, and fellow mountaineers to fight against RFRA and demand ALL mountaineers be treated equally? Come to the Capitol this Tuesday for Fairness WV’s Lobby Day!
Can’t make it? Call your Delegates and leave them this message:
“Please oppose House Bill 4012 because it encourages discrimination, will hurt our economy, and will clog up our court system with unnecessary lawsuits!”