This morning, starting at 9:30 am, the West Virginia House will hold a public hearing on House Bill 4012, the “West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” West Virginians will be gathering in the House chamber to voice their opinions on this bill. We have some opinions about this bill, too, and it should come as no surprise by now, that we strongly oppose this bill.
Like all state RFRAs that have been introduced this session, HB 4012 would not protect true religious freedom. Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value that is protected by the First Amendment. It allows all of us the freedom to believe or not as we see fit, but it does not allow us to use religion as an excuse to harm or take away the rights of others. Unfortunately, RFRAs are now being misused to do just that and this one would be no different. Here are some of our main concerns:
- HB 4012 would create a potential religious exception to every single existing and future state and local law in West Virginia, including the West Virginia Human Rights Act, which contains protections against discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing.
- HB 4012 could be used to deny people access to healthcare, such as emergency services, contraception, fertility treatments, and mental health counseling.
- HB 4012 wouldn’t just allow individuals to use RFRA to trump state laws (as though that isn’t a problem enough), but also for-profit entities, including corporations. It doesn’t seem right that corporations could deny employees, clients and customers their rights in the name of religion.
What does this mean in the real world? HB 4012 could allow:
- An employer to fire a woman who remarried after a divorce or who got pregnant when she wasn’t married;
- A pharmacist to refuse to provide a patient with HIV medication;
- A counselor to be exempted from state licensing requirements; or
- A suicide hotline operator to deny help to someone in need of emergency counseling.
In the next week, HB 4012 is expected to be heard in a House committee. Keep track of the bill here.