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West Virginia

May 1, 2009

Senate Bill 701: West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Sponsors:
Sen. Jeffrey V. Kessler

Summary:
In 1997, U.S. Supreme Court flip-flopped and dramatically lowered the level of protection available for religious freedom. House Bill 3233, filed March 19, would restore the same protection that existed before the Court’s lamentable decision.

Because of the 1997 Supreme Court decision, religious freedom cannot be restored to the whole nation at once—it must be done on a state-by-state basis. More than a dozen states have already done so.

West Virginia now has an opportunity to be added to the list of states with solid protection for religious freedom. We need your help!

Status:

3/23/2009(Senate) Introduced, sent to Judiciary Committee

This bill is now dead.

HSLDA's Position:
Support!

Action Requested:
None

Background:
The House version of this bill is not moving forward. No more calls are needed to members of the House.

On June 25, 1997, by a 6-3 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in The City of Boerne v. Flores that the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was unconstitutional. By doing this, the Court gave the lowest level of protection to religious liberty—one of the foundational freedoms of homeschooling. Under this minimal standard, the state can override a homeschooler’s or other citizen’s right to freely exercise his religious beliefs merely by proving that its regulation is “reasonable.” Since nearly all state regulations can be determined to be “reasonable,” Christians will lose.

Since the devastating U.S. Supreme Court Boerne decision, state and federal courts across the country have diminished religious freedom in many ways. For example:

  • The long-standing practice of pastor-laity confidentiality has been repeatedly violated;
  • There have been conflicts with zoning ordinances, such as the forced termination of a church ministry to the homeless because it was located on the second floor of a building with no elevator; and
  • A church was prohibited from feeding more than 50 people per day.

Passage of H.B. 3233 will raise the standard of protection for religious freedom in West Virginia for individuals, homeschool parents, churches, and all who desire to freely exercise their religious beliefs.

If passed, the West Virginia RFRA will restore the high standard of protection for religious liberty previously guaranteed in the federal RFRA and earlier Supreme Court decisions. Under the West Virginia RFRA, if an individual’s religious belief is in conflict with a state regulation, the state will have to prove, with evidence, that its regulation is essential to fulfill a compelling state interest and is the least restrictive means of doing so. If the state fails to carry the burden, the regulation must give way to the individual’s religious freedom. Restoring this protection for religious freedom will simply “even the playing field.”

In a somewhat ironic twist, Congress passed a law giving this higher level of protection—to prisoners! Prisoners now have greater protection for their religious liberty than you do. This must be changed.

Visit our issues library for a more detailed information on Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

Don’t let one decision by the U.S. Supreme Court denigrate this priceless inalienable right. Support the West Virginia RFRA!

 Other Resources

E-lert—March 20, 2009—West Virginia: Calls Needed Now to Protect Religious Freedom

E-lert—March 25, 2009—West Virginia: Calls Needed Today to Get Bills on Agenda

E-lert—March 27, 2009—West Virginia: Calls Needed by Monday for Religious Freedom!

E-lert—April 6, 2009—West Virginia: Religious Freedom Bill Gutted

Bill Text

Bill History