Human Rights Campaign Strongly Condemns the West Virginia Legislature for Hastily Passing Dangerous Religious Refusal Bill, Calls on Gov. Justice to Veto Bill

by HRC Staff

CHARLESTON, WV – The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization, condemns the West Virginia Senate for passing House Bill 3042 – a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) – yesterday. The religious refusal bill allows religious beliefs to be used as an excuse to violate the rights of others. The bill now heads to Governor Jim Justice's desk for signature.

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. The bill passed the House on Monday.

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 West Virginia Senate’s decision to rush this dangerous bill through the legislature is wrong and undemocratic. West Virginians deserve better from their elected leaders. The Human Rights Campaign strongly urges Governor Jim Justice to do the right thing and veto this discriminatory bill that will harm West Virginians and have far reaching consequences on the economy.”

Sarah Warbelow, HRC Legal Director

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.

Two months into 2023, HRC is already tracking 380 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been introduced in statehouses across the country. 150 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:

  • 90 bills that would prevent trans youth from being able to access age-appropriate, medically-necessary, best-practice health care; two have already become law, in Utah and South Dakota,

  • More bathroom ban bills filed than in any previous year,

  • And 28 anti-LGBTQ+ bills which have passed at least one chamber, 10 of which are specifically anti-trans.

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 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.

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