ACLU of Virginia Asks Governor to Amend Religion Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
February 27, 2007 12:00 am

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Civil Liberties Group Supports Legislation in Principle, But Fears Discriminatory Use If Amendments Aren’t Made to Protect Civil Rights Laws

RICHMOND, VA- The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today asked Governor Tim Kaine to amend proposed legislation intended to strengthen religious rights in Virginia. The ACLU said that it supports the law, but only if a clause is added to the bill to prevent it from being used as an excuse to discriminate against minorities, and it is changed to apply to incarcerated persons.

“This bill protects religious freedom by making it clear that the government cannot arbitrarily pass a law or implement a policy that interferes with individual religious practices,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We ask only that some assurances are included in the law to make certain it isn’t misused to undermine the civil rights laws, and that it protects incarcerated persons just like everyone else.”

HB 3082, passed by the General Assembly last week, provides that the state can only restrict individuals’ religious practices when it can show that the restriction is “essential to further a compelling governmental interest.” The bill specifically excludes incarcerated persons from its coverage.

The Senate came close to adding the amendments sought by the ACLU, but the measure was defeated on a vote of 16-22.

“We’re concerned that some individuals may argue that the new law so completely protects their religious practices that they will be able to ignore civil rights laws in the name of religion,” added Willis. “An employer, for example, might argue that, based on his religious beliefs, he can discriminate on the basis of race. A landlord might do the same with an apartment for rent.”

The ACLU of Virginia wants language added to the bill stating that it does not establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution under a federal or state civil rights law. The proposed amendments still allow religious institutions to employ persons based on their religious beliefs.

A copy of the ACLU’s letter to Governor Kaine is online at: www.aclu.org/religion/gen/28738lgl20070227.html

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