The bill passed on a 56-41 vote.
HB 773, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert, is a Kim Davis-inspired bill that allows discrimination against same-sex couples, transgender people, or those engaging in extramarital sex within any government entity – from clerks of court to school sports coaches. The bill would prohibit government from taking action against employees who refuse to do their job because it goes against their personal religious beliefs, and would allow clerks and others to refuse to provide service if they have a religious objection to doing so.
“HB 773 creates a quasi-protected class of people who are given a license to discriminate based on religious beliefs,” said David J. Toscano, Democratic Leader. “Jefferson and the founders felt strongly about religious freedom, but this bill would permit religious beliefs to justify discriminatory acts, something firmly disfavored by our Constitution.”
“Giving preference to one person’s religious beliefs over those of another is offensive and promotes inequality,” said Charniele Herring, Democratic Caucus Chair. “Ensuring that all Virginians are equal in the eyes of the law should be the goal of the General Assembly. Granting a free pass to discriminate is simply wrong.”
“This legislation gives state approval to discriminate against others,” Roanoke Democratic Del. Sam Rasoul said. “It sends a terrible message not only to people currently living in Virginia, but also sets an unwelcoming and hostile tone to people and businesses who might be considering relocating to the Commonwealth.
“The implications of this bill mean that businesses or organizations could be denied licenses, accreditation, or grant funding simply because a public official disagrees with the proprietor’s lifestyle. To permit persecution under the guise of ‘religious liberty’ goes against our nation’s values. I’m extremely disappointed that some of my colleagues are sending a message that inequality and discrimination are acceptable in Virginia,” Rasoul said.
- The Supreme Court in Larson v. Valente held that “one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.” Giving persons with specific enumerated religious or moral beliefs over the beliefs of others is in direct opposition to this ruling.
- The Virginia Constitution expressly protects the “right to be free from any governmental discrimination upon the basis of religious conviction.” The section also creates strict scrutiny of measures such as HB 773 that create a preferred status for certain beliefs over others.
- There is no evidence that the Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act is inadequate to protect people from government action burdening their free exercise of their religious beliefs.