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W.Va. House Approves Religious-Exemption Bill

Perry Bennett
West Virginia Legislative Photography
House Speaker Tim Armstead with his Majority Leader Daryl Cowles at the podium Wednesday.

A West Virginia religious-exemptions bill that opponents say would allow for discrimination has cleared the Republican-led House of Delegates.

Approved by Thursday's 72-26 vote, the proposal would let people cite religious objections to state actions in certain court proceedings. It moves to the Senate. 

“Today, there are many people that say, that think freedom of religion is the same as freedom from religion; that we don’t want you to say the Pledge of Allegiance and include, ‘under God;’ that we don’t want you to put on your money, ‘in God we trust.’ There are those among us who are intolerant of those of us who hold those beliefs and cherish the connection we have to God and our religion in this country, and it’s those people that need to understand that we have rights, too, that we have rights, and the first among them is the right to express our religion, not just in church, but wherever we go and however we live.” - House Judiciary Chair, John Shott, R-Mercer County

Proponents say it protects freedoms to express religious beliefs, unless there's a compelling state interest to restrict them.

Opponents say it sanctions discrimination, particularly targeting gay marriage.

Various business interests oppose it, from local chambers of commerce to Charleston's Marriott hotel.

Republican Senate President Bill Cole called it a "tough one." 

Reports say Indiana might have lost $60 million when groups opted against conventions in Indianapolis because of a similar law.

Citing Indiana, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he'd have to consider a veto.

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Webmaster/Eastern Panhandle Bureau Chief/Part-time Education Reporter/Producer, emccormick@wvpublic.org, 304-876-9313, @LizMcCormickWV

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