Ashton Marra Published

Democratic Amendment Significantly Changes House Religious Freedom Bill


 After a late-night meeting Friday, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee emerged with a new version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Religious Freedom Protection Act- still House Bill 4012- received another major change on the Senate floor Tuesday.

As amended by the committee, the bill included the following changes:

  • A more narrow definition of “substantially burdened”
  • An award of injunctive relief and no allowance for an award of attorneys fees and court costs for a plaintiff
  • Added language to protect churches and clerics who refuse to perform a service or ceremony or refuse to recognize a marriage that is contrary to their faith
  • Added language to make it more clear that the bill cannot be used as a tool to discriminate 

Republican Sen. Ed Gaunch attempted to remove those provisions on the floor Tuesday, restoring the bill to the House-approved version. His amendment, however, failed.
Democratic Sen. Corey Palumbo tried for a second time to add protection to the bill for municipalities that have passed their own non-discrimination ordinances. His amendment failed when proposed to members of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, but Tuesday, Palumbo added a provision to the bill that said vaccine laws could also not be challenged under the law.  

“This will make clear it cannot be used as a sword to invalidate those ordinances, but once again, if you’re inclined to want to discriminate in West Virginia, you can still use Article 3 Section 15 of our Constitution to do your discriminating,” Palumbo said. “You just can’t use this bill.”

Article 3 Section 15 guarantees religious freedom in the state. It was Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael’s emotional speech in favor of the amendment, however, that grabbed the attention of the chamber.

“This issue’s not easy. I prayed for clarity, wisdom and discernment on this,” Carmicahel said.

“I just think this sends the wrong message. I think we need to value the human dignity and the goodness in people and I don’t want us to go down this path. I just don’t.”

Palumbo’s amendment was accepted 23-11. The amended version of the bill will be up for a vote Wednesday.