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WV Gov. Justice signs bill expanding religious freedom protections

The bill creates a legal course of action for those alleging to have had their rights threatened.

Published: March 9, 2023 4:34pm

Updated: March 9, 2023 5:28pm

West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday signed the Equal Protection for Religion Act that aims to enshrine greater protections for persons of faith in state law.

The law states that the state may not "[s]ubstantially burden a person's exercise of religion unless applying the burden to that person's exercise of religion in a particular situation is essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."

Neither may it "[t]reat religious conduct more restrictively than any conduct of reasonably comparable risk; nor [t]reat religious conduct more restrictively than comparable conduct because of alleged economic need or benefit."

It further creates a legal course of action for those alleging to have had their rights threatened in violation of the law, though it limits relief to reimbursement of costs and attorney fees, as well as injunctive or declaratory relief.

Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Greg Chafuen celebrated the law's signing, saying "[c]itizens should not be left defenseless when their government attempts to burden their ability to live and worship according to their faith."

"This law provides a sensible balancing test for courts to use when reviewing government policies that infringe upon the religious freedom rights of West Virginians," he continued. "The law doesn't automatically decide who will win every disagreement, but it does ensure that every West Virginian—regardless of belief system or political power—receives a fair hearing when government action forces a person to violate his or her religious beliefs."

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on Twitter.

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