West Virginia’s bill is one of now 24 similar laws passed by states across the nation. The act is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that was passed in 1993 but then deemed unconstitutional in application to states by a federal court in 1997.
According to Becket, a religious liberty law firm, state RFRAs “level the playing field in court for people of deeply held religious convictions.”
RFRAs are designed to protect all religious groups, Becket states on its website. The act itself was created, Becket points out, after Oregon denied unemployment benefits to Native American counselors who were fired for using peyote in their religious ceremonies.
One high-profile case involving an RFRA is the Oct. 15, 2019, case in which a federal district court in Texas ruled that the “transgender mandate” in the Affordable Care Act violated the federal RFRA. In his decision, Judge Reed O’Connor said that providers’ and insurers’ refusal to perform or pay for transgender procedures was an exercise of their religious freedom.
The bill’s opponents in West Virginia argue that it will be used to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals and groups within the state.
“I think it’s going to become the forefront of embarrassment again and show backwoods mentality for the state of West Virginia, when I think we can simplify it all: Why don’t we all just try to get along?” Democratic state Sen. Mike Caputo said. “Why don’t we all just let people be what they want to be and let them love who they want to love and practice their religion the way they want to practice their religion?”