Only Jewish Lawmaker In West Virginia House Emotionally Denounces Religious Freedom Restoration Act
The West Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday took up one of dozens of anti-LGBT bills making their way through state legislatures this year. Most in some way try to make discriminating against LGBT people – especially same-sex couples – legal, by letting anyone or any company, corporation, or organization claim to have a "sincerely held religious or moral belief" against same-sex marriage or even LGBT people in general.
The House debate Thursday was contentious. For two hours lawmakers battled with HB 4012, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), even though one supporter of the bill admitted that it "really doesn’t restore anything."
Several lawmakers took to the floor to explain why the bill was supposedly necessary.
Republican Delegate John Shott, according to The Register-Herald, "said he was dismayed at a Christmas party last year when a guest there said he had not displayed his Nativity scene this year because he 'wasn’t sure whether it was legal or not, whether it was going to create any problems or not or whether somebody was going to complain.' Shott said the party guest 'just didn’t think it was worth the trouble.'"
“That really caused me to pause,” Shott told his fellow lawmakers. “We really live in a country of hyper-sensitivity. We have really become so paranoid," he added, at expressing "the devotion that we feel to what is the foundation of this nation, and that’s religion.”
Democratic Delegate Mike Pushkin took to the floor, and in a very respectful and honest speech, explained that he was "offended by the intent" of the bill.
Pushkin said he attended a hearing that detailed that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act "is about protecting a religious minority from undue persecution."
"I believe I am the only member of a religious minority elected to this body currently," Pushkin said. "I'm Jewish. Religious freedom is very important to me. If it wasn't for religious freedom I wouldn't be here," he stressed, adding that his family fled "real religious persecution" in Eastern Europe.
"In my lifetime I cannot tell you what religious persecution is, because I'm an American, and we do not persecute people in America for religious beliefs, because we have the First Amendment to the Constitution, that's very well written."
Asking what the real reason behind the RFRA is, Pushkin concluded it's because "same-sex marriage is now legal in West Virginia." He called the bill a "pushback" from people who are "not persecuted, but possibly inconvenienced."
He offered as an example of religious inconvenience a meeting he had to attend as a state lawmaker on the most holiest of days on the Jewish Calendar, Rosh Hashanah.
"I did my job," Pushkin said, adding that he was late for religious services. "That was an inconvenience."
"I didn't stand on the courthouse steps and cry about it, I didn't really say much," he said. "Mike Huckabee didn't fly into West Virginia and hold my hand on the courthouse steps," Pushkin said, raising his arm in a manner similar to the now-iconic image of the Baptist preacher standing with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis.
"It was a scheduling problem that interfered with my religious beliefs."
Pushkin then offered an example of the difference between religious inconvenience and religious persecution.
"Having to bake a cake when you are a professional baker, and having somebody pay you to bake a cake is not discrimination. It could, possibly, be seen as an inconvenience," Pushkin offered. "But you're a baker."
"I don't see that, really as an inconvenience. It's somebody choosing to do their job," he said, then, paused in frustration.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is, baking a cake is not persecution. Getting baked in an oven is persecution," Pushkin said, clearly alluding to the millions of Jews and other people slaughtered in Nazi Germany.
The West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act on Thursday passed by an overwhelming majority, 72-26. It now moves on to the Senate.
HB4012 passed the House. I voted "no". I only wish my red button was louder #StopHB4012— Mike Pushkin (@pushkinforhouse) February 11, 2016
There is a change.org petition you can sign asking the Senate to not vote for hate.