Meet HB 4012, West Virginia’s new Avoid All Taxes and Get Out of Jail Free Bill
Want to stop paying taxes?
Wish you could beat up your gay neighbor?
Looking for an excuse to remove your daughter from school and keep her illiterate?
Need a place to dump your toxic sludge?
Trying to keep all Muslims out of your town?
Move to West Virginia and you may be home free.
Five days ago, Republican leaders Tim Armstead (Speaker of the House) and John O’Neal (Majority Whip) introduced House Bill 4012 to the West Virginia Legislature and were joined by Republican legislators Mike Azinger, Allen Evans, Roger Hanshaw, Ruth Rowan and Terry Waxman, who sponsored the bill. Sponsors also notably include Democratic Party legislators Rick Moye and Rupert Phillips.
House Bill 4012 would, if passed, allow anyone charged with a crime or sued in court to get away with it. How? All the criminal or civil defendant has to do is declare that their religion required them to act as they did, and the court must accept that declaration as a legitimate defense.
“State action may not substantially burden a person’s right to exercise of religion,” West Virginia House Bill 4012 declares, and further clarifies:
- “‘State action’ means the implementation or application of any law, including, but not limited to, state and local laws, ordinances, rules, regulations and policies, whether statutory or otherwise.”
- “‘Substantial burden’ means any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails or denies the exercise of religion by any person or directly or indirectly compels any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion. ‘Substantial burden’ includes, but is not limited to, withholding benefits, assessing criminal, civil or administrative penalties or damages, or exclusion from governmental programs or access to governmental facilities.”
If the government wants to then stop that person from getting away with assault, or child abuse, or tax evasion, or negligence, or toxic dumping, or expulsion of unwanted minority groups, or any other crime, misdemeanor or illegal act, it must successfully petition and convince the court that it’s overwhelmingly vital to the entire state government of West Virginia that an exception be made. If this bill is passed into law, the default legal presumption in West Virginia will be that leaders and followers of religious churches, sects and cults can do whatever they want to, so long as their religion approves of it.
In short, conservative West Virginia legislators are trying to end the rule of law and to replace it with rule by any and all Shariah-style religious edicts, be they formally written or even just informally held inside any citizen’s mind. Given the nearly infinite number of possible religious rules out there, and given the freedom of religious rules from having to make any kind of sense, the result will either be an anarchic state ruled by the boldest moral bullies, or a new order in which courts stocked with government judges exert the privilege of deciding which religious edicts are worthy enough to justify breaking the law and which religious edicts aren’t as worthy. Maybe if you’re in a Baptist county, a Baptist judge will decide which religious edicts qualify for law-breaking. Maybe if you’re in a Methodist county, a Methodist judge gets to sit on high and make that decision.
Are you comfortable with that? Would you be comfortable with that system if you happened to live in a Muslim-predominant county, or county where Orthodox Jews turned out the vote in the last election?
West Virginia House Bill 4012 only starts by opening the door to scot-free lawbreaking. It ends with government establishment of religion.