The owner of The Greenbrier resort said Tuesday that West Virginia lawmakers would be shooting themselves in the foot by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that civil rights advocates fear could be used to allow businesses to turn away LGBT customers.
Jim Justice, a Democrat who is running for governor, pointed to the woes of Indiana, a state where a tourism official said they lost $60 million in revenue when convention organizers cited their religious freedom restoration act as a reason not to locate there.
“We shouldn't shoot ourselves in the foot by turning away tourism and businesses; we need to be a welcoming state that can attract new jobs,” Justice said, according to a statement sent by campaign spokesman Grant Herring.
“Indiana lost $60 million in tourism alone — West Virginia does not need to head down that road. We would never turn anyone away at The Greenbrier.”
The bill (HB 4012) establishes a legal process for courts to follow when determining if a person's religious beliefs are being violated.
Because businesses and individuals could argue that civil rights laws, including local nondiscrimination ordinances, violate their religious beliefs, civil rights advocates argue that the bill could be used to refuse services to LGBT people, women and others.
Before the House of Delegates passed the bill last week, supportive lawmakers, mainly Republicans, argued that the bill simply codifies a balancing test for courts to abide by when determining if a person's religious beliefs are being violated by state action and doesn't guarantee any outcome of that test.
Opponents, mainly Democrats, argued that the potential legislation will be bad for business, harm West Virginia's reputation and encourage discrimination against marginalized groups.
Justice's response was sent at the request of the Gazette-Mail. Justice's two Democratic opponents in the gubernatorial race, former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, already had publicly opposed the potential legislation.
Goodwin tweeted, “What would Jesus do? Not HB4012,” on Thursday.
At a recent press conference held by LGBT rights group Fairness West Virginia, Kessler said the bill's name reminded him of his mother talking about “riff-raff.”
“Well this RFRA bill is riff-raff,” he said. “It's wrong.”
State Senate President Bill Cole, a Republican running for governor, said last week that he was undecided on the legislation.
The state Senate has yet to take up the bill. After passing the House of Delegates, the bill was sent to the Senate Judiciary committee, but it has not yet been placed on a committee agenda.