How is Virginia’s Religious Freedom Law different from Indiana’s
While Indiana feels the backlash across the nation from their new religious freedom law, they aren’t the only state which lacks protections for the LGBTQ community.
Virginia, like 20 other states (pictures below) has its own statute allowing individuals to deny services by claiming religious liberty if such an act would force an action against their deeply held beliefs – an argument IN Gov. Mike Pence has echoed numerous times.
But there are important differences, and we spoke with Norfolk attorney Mike Hammer about what those differences are .
Hammer said the main difference between Virginia’s law is law does not give businesses and corporations the right to discriminate, where as Indiana’s does.
“Businesses, limited liability corporations, or companies, etc., all are treated like they’re a human that has religious freedom rights,” Hammer said. “That’s a major change.”
in Virginia, Hammer said, individuals have the right to refuse service due to religious beliefs, but corporations technically do not.
“It’s gone from people having the right to companies and corporations having the right to assert religious belief,” Hammer said. “Which frankly is ridiculous because how does something that exists on paper, if you will, or in state filings, have religious belief. It’s only individuals who can have that.”
Virginia law also differs from Indiana’s in that religious belief can only be raised where an individual is getting prosecuted for violating a nondiscrimination law. According to Hammer, religious freedom could be used as a defense in civil suits as well as criminal prosecutions.
One of the claims Indiana Gov. Mike Pence made is the language of their bill is the same as federal law and many other state laws around the country, such as Virginia’s.
Congress passed the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 with bipartisan support and then-president Bill Clinton signed it into law. Thereafter, 20 other states adopted their own RFRA into codes. But this federal law is not, in fact, the same as Indiana’s.
The federal RFRA does not allow for-profit businesses the right to exercise freedom of religion, like it does for individuals and churches.
Nor also does it allow businesses to use religious liberty as a defense in private lawsuits, unlike Indiana’s new bill.
These differences between the federal RFRA and Indiana’s bill also exist in the majority of other states which have adopted similar legislation.
Hammer said Indiana’s bill is an immense threat to civil liberties because it’s so broadly worded. The language could be used to defend discrimination on multiple levels, including Muslims, Jews and African Americans.
“I mean, the Indiana thing allows any individual or any company to really discriminate on a whole host of things and cite religious belief and get away with it,” Hamar said. “I mean it’s turning the equality for all kinds of people way back in time.”
Another major concner in Hamar’s eyes Indiana is the state lacks any nondiscrimination clauses for the LGBT community. Here in the Commonwealth, we have the same issue. The only protection we have against discrimination based on sexual orientation is in the state work force, which was created in an executive order by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
According to Hamar, Virginia’s RFRA only serves as a defense for individuals if the state government comes after them for discrimination, but does not prevent discrimination from taking place.
“The problem is in Virginia there are so few protections… you can be fired for being gay and there’s no consequence because there’s no nondiscrimination policy,” Hamar said.
Initially, Pence denied the bill had anything to do with discrimination against gays and lesbians. But the blow back from Indiana’s religious freedom law was so widespread, Pence has since asked legislators to clarify the bill, but hasn’t been specific on what changes he hopes to see.
But Hamar believes clarifying the law wont actually fix the problem.
“The honest solution if we want to go back to what the founding fathers contemplated, all of these statutes need to be repealed.”
Top image of Indianapolis protest via Wikipedia
Religion plays a role in legislation involving everything from firearms to health care to marriage in the Virginia General Assembly. Like their constituents, the vast majority of legislators are Christian. Religious lawmakers say that their faith shapes their values and outlook on life – but that they don’t impose their religious beliefs on others. “We [...]May 4, 2017
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