CHARLESTON, WV – The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization, condemns West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice for signing House Bill 3042 – a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA). The religious refusal bill allows religious beliefs to be used as an excuse to violate the rights of others.
HB 3042 could allow anyone to be exempt from following a law or a governmental policy if they believe that law or policy burdens their religious beliefs. That means that any individual religious belief has the potential to determine which state and local laws a person or corporation must follow. A similar bill failed in 2016 in West Virginia after lawmakers voiced concerns about how it could affect LGBTQ+ residents.
Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow released the following statement in response:
“Religious freedom is a fundamental right enshrined in our constitution. This core value has shaped our nation and strengthened our union. Unfortunately, RFRAs like HB 3042 distort our foundational freedoms into tools to limit the rights of others, including the LGBTQ+ community and other vulnerable people. Religious freedom must not be wielded as a sword to violate the basic civil rights of others. Nobody should be turned away from a business, denied housing or refused service by government officials because of who they are or who they love.”
The unintended consequences of federal and state religious refusal bills have undermined our core civil rights protections and jeopardized the health and safety of vulnerable people. Business leaders and many faith leaders have opposed efforts to enact these types of bills across the country knowing the harm they can cause. In 2015, Indiana’s disastrous attempt to pass a similar bill resulted in the loss of 12 conventions and had a negative economic impact of up to $60 million. In 2016, Republican Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia vetoed a RFRA stating “Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people. … I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”
Religious refusal bills also lead to costly litigation for state and local governments. State and local governments have been tied up in court for years defending constitutional laws and policies to which some individuals and businesses object.
The West Virginia legislature rushed the bill through the legislative process. Moments before passing the bill, the Senate suspended the state’s constitutional rules that require bills to be read and considered on three separate days. Senators also refused to allow any committee to consider the proposal and instead brought the bill directly to the floor for a vote.
So far in 2023, HRC is tracking more than 425 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been introduced in statehouses across the country. More than 175 of those would specifically restrict the rights of transgender people, the highest number of bills targeting transgender people in a single year to date.
So far this year, HRC is tracking:
More than 100 bills that would prevent trans youth from being able to access age-appropriate, medically-necessary, best-practice health care; four have already become law, in Tennessee, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Utah,
More bathroom ban bills filed than in any previous year,
More than 80 curriculum censorship bills and 30 anti-drag performance bills.
In a coordinated push led by national anti-LGBTQ+ groups, which deployed vintage discriminatory tropes, politicians in statehouses across the country introduced 315 discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 2022 and 29 passed into law. Despite this, fewer than 10% of these efforts succeeded. The majority of the discriminatory bills – 149 bills – targeted the transgender and non-binary community, with the majority targeting children receiving the brunt of discriminatory legislation. By the end of the 2022 legislative session, a record 17 bills attacking transgender and non-binary children passed into law.
Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2022 took several forms, including:
80 bills aimed to prevent transgender youth from playing school sports consistent with their gender identity. 19 states now exclude transgender athletes in school sports.
42 bills to prevent transgender and non-binary youth from receiving life-saving, medically-necessary gender-affirming healthcare. 5 states now restrict access to gender-affirming care.
70 curriculum censorship bills tried to turn back the clock and restrict teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ issues and other marginalized communities in their classrooms. 7 passed into law.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.
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