Delegate Irene Shin (D-Fairfax) called Governor Glenn Youngkin a “wolf in fleece clothing” after he amended her bill to protect people wearing religious items against discrimination. Youngkin’s amendments to HB 1063 expand the definition of “religion” in the legislation. The bill passed out of the General Assembly with unanimous support, but the legislature will meet next week to vote on Youngkin’s amendments to the bill and other legislation.
“And in the face of this bipartisan collaboration, the Governor has drastically changed the scope and intent of this bill and warped it into something much more insidious,” Shin said in a press release Wednesday. “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. 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.”
When Shin presented the bill in committee earlier this year, she explained, “HB 1063 would make sure that a person seeking to buy a house, rent an apartment, or find employment that they couldn’t be discriminated against because they’re wearing a cross across their neck or a yarmulke or a headscarf.”
The bill adds a key definition of religion to code sections banning discrimination in various contexts: “‘Religion’ includes 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’s amendment changes the definition: “‘Religion’ means all aspects of religious observance, practice, or belief.”
Virginia Values Act
In 2020, Democrats expanded the Virginia Human Rights Act with the Virginia Values Act. Some Christian organizations have resisted the change because it created Virginia Code Section 2.2-3905, which bans discrimination in employment including for religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. That led to some lawsuits, and in the 2022 session, Republicans tried to modify an exemption for religious employers with the added phrase, “As used in this subsection, the term ‘religion’ includes all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief,” a sentence similar to Youngkin’s amendment to HB 1063.
Those bills died, but Shin’s bill passed with little controversy, to the surprise of the Virginia Family Foundation, whose president suggested that the Republican legislation distracted from Shin’s bill.
HB 1063 doesn’t modify section 2.2-3905 of the Virginia Code, but it does add the definition of religion to section 2.2-3901, which affects “religion” where it appears in the whole Virginia Human Rights Act, including section 2.2-3905. Youngkin’s amendment would also change that section.
Matching the Civil Rights Act of 1964
House Education Chairman Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) told The Virginia Star that the change was meant to remove legally ambiguous language in HB 1063.
“I made a phone call when I saw this as well, because I voted for the original language, and I was kind of curious, you know, on the movement to the new language,” he said. “What I didn’t realize is in Delegate Shin’s bill, the definition of “religion” or practice of religion, is new language that hasn’t been used before at the state or federal level, and it has no case law there.”
“The new [Youngkin’s] language that is in there came directly out of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of ’64. There’s a lot of case law around it. So the first thing that happens is you have more protection when there’s case law around it,” he said.
“Additionally, in Delegate Shin’s, the one thing that could be problematic is it says that, “‘Religion’ includes,” and it says, “including adherence,” and legally, whenever you include the term “including,” it means that ‘in addition to,’ right? And so what beyond what is expressed here do we also include?”
Davis said, “So the fact that she used the word “including” opens the door to other things that are not defined, whereas Title VII of the Civil Rights Act uses verbiage.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act states, “The term ‘religion’ includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”
Shin’s press release states, “The Governor’s amendment drastically changes the scope of the bill, and would protect workplace discrimination and bigotry in the future under the guise of religious expression.”
Davis said, “If she’s saying that the amendment is a bigoted amendment, or would open the door to bigotry, I would ask her what her problem is with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Irene Shin” by Irene Shin. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.