Forty-nine of 50 state constitutions now allow houses of worship to incorporate – an administrative process that protects individuals from personal legal liability, sets up formal rules of corporate governance and more.
West Virginia appears to be the lone hold-out. It’s time for that to change.
When our state Constitution was written during the Civil War, much of the language was simply carried over from Virginia’s 18-century constitution. When the West Virginia Constitution was written, incorporation was a very different process than it is today because only state legislatures could grant an entity corporate status. The founders did not want a political body deciding which religious institutions could incorporate and which could not.
This provision, placed in the modern context of corporate law, feels archaic. It discriminates against religious institutions by denying them the same opportunities as similar but secular institutions. The ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
The state must never give preference to any particular religion, and it must never give preference to religion over non-religion. By the same token, it should not be favoring non-religious entities over similar religious entities. And that’s exactly what Article 6, Section 47 of our state constitution does.
The West Virginia Legislature is set to consider SJR4, a constitutional amendment that would correct this discriminatory provision. If the resolution gets a two-thirds majority in each chamber, the proposed amendment will be on the ballot for a public vote. The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia supports its passage.