Sharia for Jesus: West Virginia bill would give Christians a “get out of jail free” card.
A sweeping religious freedom bIll promoted by Republicans in West Virginia would allow people of faith to illegally discriminate against others, as well as break any other law that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) – also known as the “West Virginia Freedom of Conscience Protection Act” – establishes that only a “governmental interest of the highest magnitude that cannot otherwise be achieved without burdening the exercise of religion” can compel someone to obey the law if their religious beliefs come into conflict with it.
SB 11 defines of the exercise of religion thus:
“Exercise of religion” means the sincere practice or observance of religion or religious conscience. It includes, but is not limited to, the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious beliefs or religious conscience, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.
Observing that “the protections the legislation provides surpass every other state-level RFRA law,” Tim Peacock, writing at Peacock Panache, notes:
SB 11 would literally create a new class of rights superior to all other protections afforded at the local, state or federal level. It would create a special class of rights wherein one civil right comes into conflict with another, religious belief would always prevail.
Writing at Friendly Atheist, Rachel Ford reports:
While the bill protects the discriminatory impulses of a handful of bigoted bakers and clerks, the fact is that, if passed, the state would have to prove a “governmental interest of the highest magnitude” to enforce any law.
Metro News reports that the business community in West Virginia is alarmed by the proposed legislation. Commenting on the bill, Jill Rice, spokesperson for Opportunity West Virginia, said:
At the end of the day, legislation that would result in discrimination against individuals, from any background, sends a message that our state is not open for business.
If passed, the law would be a nightmare, and would literally give anyone who claims to have sincerely held religious beliefs a legal defense when caught breaking a law, so long as that law supposedly violated those same sincerely held religious beliefs.
In reality, the proposed legislation is a deeply flawed and mean-spirited attempt to allow conservative Christians to discriminate against those they do not like. However, as written, the sweeping legislation would open a Pandora’s box where potentially every arrest and every infraction would be open to a religious freedom defense.
Bottom line: When conservatives talk about religious freedom, they usually mean special rights and protections for Christian bigots. The proposed legislation in West Virginia is no exception.
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