Gov. Jim Justice signs the
“License to Discriminate” Bill
CHARLESTON, West Virginia — Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday signed into law House Bill 3042, a piece of legislation better known as the “License to Discriminate” Bill.
This law 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.
“This isn’t about protecting religious freedom,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia. “The freedom of religion is a fundamental right to our country and it’s enshrined in both the U.S. and West Virginia constitution. This law is nothing more than a license to discriminate.”
Despite the bill’s clear intentions, several Republican legislators have attempted to argue the bill won’t be used as a tool to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, attempted to amend new language into the bill that ensures it cannot be used to violate any nondiscrimination law. The amendment failed.
“It’s not secret that major corporations — including more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies — believe that discrimination is bad for business,” Schneider said. “Businesses want to attract diverse talent, and this law won’t make that any easier. Young professionals want to live in vibrant, welcoming communities, and guess what they’ll say when they see our lawmakers spending more time promoting discrimination than tackling the real issues facing our state.”
The unintended consequences of laws like this have undermined our core civil rights protections and jeopardized the health and safety of vulnerable people. A law like this could allow a police officer to refuse to even interact with certain members of the community, even while on duty. There has already been an example of this in Oklahoma, where an officer cited a RFRA law in defense of his refusal to even attend a community event hosted by a local Islamic Society. Other police officers have claimed “religious liberty” in their refusal to police an LGBTQ pride parade.
Religious exemption laws muddy the legal landscape and have already led to many costly lawsuits across the country, as local municipalities have been embroiled in lengthy litigation.
In Arizona, it took one small town four years to settle a dispute where the plaintiff used a similar law as a basis for refusing to comply with an ordinance regulating sign postings. The National League of Cities and the National Associations of Counties have both cautioned against such laws.
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Fairness West Virginia is the statewide civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to fair treatment and civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer West Virginians. Our mission is to ensure LGBTQ people can be open, honest and safe at home, at work, and in the community. We are open to everyone who believes in fundamental fairness.