Some Deceptive West Virginia House Members Falsely Call the Religious Freedom Bill – the Sharia Law Bill

Opponents of more religious freedom in West Virginia have begun to engage in malicious tactics against the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Claiming that the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act will allow Sharia law in our state is simply outrageous,” said Family Policy Council President Allen Whitt. “We live under U.S. law and nothing can change that.”

Sadly those tactics encompass well-orchestrated lies on several fronts and they

Ground_Zero_Mosque_Protesters_11 (1) have been successful in other states.

Last year North Dakota was set to pass religious freedom restoration via a state-wide ballot. But an elaborate radio campaign targeting rural Christian voters confused them.

The ads said, “We all want more religious freedom. But Vote against this or it will allow Sharia law and all our women will have to wear burqas!”

Those tactics now appear to include some members of the West Virginia house intentionally mis-labeling the bill as the Sharia law bill.

We heard from sympathetic sources how some of the affiliated national operatives who are funding and coordinating the STOP RELIGIOUS FREEDOM effort in WEST VIRGINIA, view our citizens…

…If we can stick it to those bumpkin religious bigots in North Dakota we can make West Virginians start to believe anything we tell them if its on their radio….

 

Those activists are mounting a well-funded and carefully messaged effort in WV. They are building a coalition of businesses, trade associations and pseudo-civil rights groups. Several have already publicly come out against HB4012.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail newspaper has run an almost daily hit piece against the bill. Considering the abundant rumors of that paper’s bottom line recently it seems a gamble to roll the dice on maintaining advertising dollars from several large local advertisers  who’s owners believe protecting religious freedom would be good for business. The Charleston Marriott, Embassy Suites, the Charleston Area Chamber and tourism association have all declared opposition. They wrongly cry that the bill will allow discrimination and make West Virginia less welcoming.

AT&T lobbyists provided a small and benign amendment to the 2015 version of the bill and if added, discussed with a member of the senate that they would not take a position on the bill. But even after adding that amendment in the 2016 version AT&T still has still declared opposition. Again wrongly citing discrimination concerns before they had even seen HB4012.

None of those declarations have surprised anyone.  Nor have those coalitions and declarations deterred the efforts of the Family Policy Council or supporters of the bill. They are new to West Virginia but not new. We’ve seen them following the same playbook in several states over the past few years.

 

“Claiming that the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act will allow Sharia law in our state is simply outrageous,” said Family Policy Council President Allen Whitt. “We live under U.S. law and nothing can change that.”

 

But sometimes outrageous tactics are effective. The fact that even some West Virginia House members are now intentionally mischaracterizing the bill as an open door to Sharia law is evidence that their initial attempts to label the bill as discriminatory are failing to mislead an informed legislature and voting public.

On February 3rd the usual tactic of calling RFRA bills discriminatory was summarily dismissed by the House Judiciary Committee. It passed with bi-partisian support 16-9. Some of the best legal minds in the state inhabit that committee. It’s also chaired by highly respected House Delegate John Shott from Mercer County, who is an attorney by trade.

Professionally and deftly, multiple members of the House Judiciary committee demonstrated the need for the restoration of a fair balancing test in our state. That test would return protections for religious conscience.

For almost six hours opponents of more religious freedom in West Virginia attacked the bill and attacked the West Virginia State Constitution from which many of the bills protections would come. Their attacks against the merits of the bill were easily exposed by committee members as baseless in fact and extreme in their approach. That display of legal knowledge by the Chair and Vice Chair Delegate Patrick Lane from Putnam County, wasn’t surprising. The House Judiciary Committee is designed to protect citizen’s freedom and is likely the most studied, balanced and fair committee in our West Virginia legislature.

House staff attorney Bryan Casto displayed comprehensive expertise on the history of the issue and the complex but valuable legal precedents that these bills have provided to protect state citizens in 21 other states.

The Federal RFRA is currently still law. But religious conscience protections in that Federal law, were reclassified several years ago by the Supreme Court so they can only be used against Federal government burden of religion. But that Supreme Court decision that removed the state protections,  also recommended each state pass their own religious freedom protection law to regain those protections. Twenty-one states have already done so including three of our neighboring states, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Please forward this article to all of your West Virginia contacts so they are informed.