Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has signed a law that legally defines religion as including actions and expressions, not just personal belief, which is viewed as a win by religious liberty advocates.
Known as House Bill 1063, the legislation defines the word “religion” as meaning “any outward expression of religious faith, including adherence to religious dressing and grooming practices and the carrying or display of religious items or symbols.”
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter told The Christian Post in a statement Tuesday that the legislation is a “modest step” to advance religious liberty in Virginia.
“Governor Youngkin has a firm spiritual foundation that guides his entire life and will use every ounce of his authority to protect Virginians’ First Amendment right to freely live out their faith,” Porter said. “HB 1063 is a modest step toward preserving religious freedom in the Commonwealth and the Governor hopes to continue to build on that in the future.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group that has argued religious liberty cases before the United States Supreme Court, applauded the passage of HB 1063.
ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor said that the measure “provides a necessary and helpful clarification in the law to help ensure Virginians won’t face discrimination simply for outwardly expressing their religious beliefs.”
“Virginia law forbids discrimination on the basis of religion in multiple contexts yet fails to define the actual term ‘religion,’ which can leave Virginians vulnerable to hostile reactions to expressions of their faith,” said Baylor in a statement.
“We commend Gov. Youngkin and the Virginia General Assembly for resolving this ambiguity so that Virginians can freely live out their faith without fear of government punishment.”
The bill was introduced by Del. Irene Shin, a Democrat representing northern Virginia, with the aim of protecting individuals with an outward religious expression like wearing a yarmulke or cross from being discriminated against.
In April, after the legislation passed both houses of the General Assembly in unanimous votes, Youngkin offered an amendment to HB 1063 that would have instead defined religion as “all aspects of religious observance, practice, or belief.”
Shin denounced this change of language, claiming in a statement posted to Twitter that it “perverts the intention of this legislation and the legislative body.” After maintaining that Youngkin “hijacked my bill to push his own insidious, right-wing agenda,” Shin unveiled the hashtag #GetYourOwnDamnBill to highlight her disapproval of the amendment.
“The practical implications of the Governor’s amendment would be to create legal protections for discriminatory and bigoted policies, acts and beliefs under the guise of religion,” she continued.
“The fact that this Administration would co-opt a universally approved bipartisan measure designed to ensure equal protections and weaponize it to advance their agenda of discrimination and division, while sadly unsurprising, is still appalling.”
Although the governor’s amended version of HB 1063 passed the Republican-controlled House of Delegates in a vote of 52-48 last month, it was not taken up by the Democrat-controlled Senate in time for the governor’s action deadline.
HB 1063 was one of 23 bills Youngkin signed into law Friday, as the regular session of the 162nd Virginia General Assembly came to a close. He acknowledged that “while most of these bills were returned to me in an imperfect form, I firmly believe they offer a bipartisan path forward.” The governor vetoed an additional seven bills sent to him by the legislature.