The West Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday adopted a resolution that would allow voters to decide if churches in the state could become corporations, if they so choose.
The House adopted Senate Joint Resolution 4 by a margin of 97-2.
If the Legislature passes the resolution in its current form, West Virginians will vote on whether to amend the West Virginia Constitution to allow for the incorporation of churches.
The special election would take place on July 24, 2021.
The House Judiciary Committee added the date for the special election, so the Senate will have to consider whether to accept that provision of the bill.
The Senate’s version of the bill scheduled the amendment to be on the ballot during the 2022 general election.
The resolution is in response to a ruling in a case in a federal district court in Virginia, where a federal judge found that it was a violation of a church’s First Amendment rights to prevent it from incorporating if it was the will of church leaders to do so, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said on Feb. 19.
The case was a challenge by the late Jerry Falwell Sr. in his role as pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Falwell sued Virginia State Corporation Commission Chairman Clinton Miller in 2002 over a provision in the Virginia Constitution that didn’t allow churches to incorporate.
The West Virginia Constitution had derived its language regarding churches incorporating from Virginia’s constitution when it became a state in 1863, Trump said.
The 2021 Regular Legislative Session is set to end Saturday.