A proposed bill, the West Virginia Freedom of Conscience Protection Act, could allow people in the state to violate existing laws based on their religious beliefs.
The bill, which is backed by seven Republicans in the state Senate, appears to be intended to protect Christians and Christian-owned businesses from having to obey laws that pertain to serving LGBT people, but may go further, according to Patheos.com.
The bill would allow people to violate a law that they believe goes against their religious beliefs unless the law "is absolutely crucial to the state’s interests."
The bill states: "State action may not burden a person's right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to that person's exercise of religion in this particular instance: is essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."
The bill defines "exercise of religion" as a "sincere practice or observance of religion or religious conscience. It includes, but is not limited to, the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by one's sincerely held religious beliefs or religious conscience, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief."
The bill goes on to define "state action" as "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," according to the West Virginia Legislature website.
"West Virginians take their religious liberties and their religious rights very seriously, and they want to see us ensure that those are protected," Republican state House speaker Tim Amsted told CBN in January.
"We just want to make sure that we set up a process in West Virginia where those who feel their rights have been infringed upon that they have a remedy," he said.