Lawsuit: New Virginia Law Threatens Religious Freedom of Churches

Lawsuit: New Virginia Law Threatens Religious Freedom of Churches

Two churches, three Christian schools and a pro-life ministry are bringing suit against a new Virginia law that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit in Virginia state court on behalf of Calvary Road Baptist Church, Community Fellowship Church, Community Christian Academy, Calvary Road Christian School, Grace Christian School and Care Net.

In July, Virginia became the first Southern state to pass sweeping LGBT rights legislation that bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. The Virginia Values Act (SB 868) compels churches, religious schools and Christian ministries to hire employees who do not share their stated beliefs on marriage, sexuality and gender identity, according to a statement by ADF. A companion law (HB 1429) requires the ministries and others like them to include coverage in employee health care plans for sex reassignment and “gender affirming” surgeries that run contrary to their beliefs. It also prohibits the ministries from offering sex-specific classes for parenting, Christian discipleship and sports.

Under the Act, ADF says, churches, Christian schools and other religious ministries that operate consistently with their beliefs on marriage and human sexuality face a choice: abandon their Biblical beliefs or face investigation, lawsuits, fines of up to $100,000 per violation, unlimited legal fees and court orders forcing them to violate their convictions.

According to the suit, the law goes even further, prohibiting churches, ministries and Christian schools from even explaining their beliefs on their own websites.

“Essentially, if a church, ministry, or Christian school operates consistently with (or even explains) its religious beliefs on marriage or human sexuality—beliefs that the state has classified unwelcome—it opens itself up to potential investigation, lawsuits, and financial ruin,” said ADF’s Sarah Kramer.

The legislation runs afoul of current law in all kinds of ways, said John Stonestreet, co-host of BreakPoint Radio and president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. For starters, he said, it ignores what the Supreme Court confirmed this past term about the “ministerial exception,” which bars the application of anti-discrimination law in cases involving churches and their ministers.

In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the court ruled that churches and other religious organizations—as guaranteed by the Constitution’s First Amendment—have the freedom to select those who hold certain ministerial positions, especially messengers or teachers of the faith.

“Just a month after that ruling issued, the Virginia General Assembly and Governor [Ralph] Northam decided to ignore this freedom and the Supreme Court’s decision,” Stonestreet said.

According to the lawsuit, Calvary Road Baptist Church and Community Fellowship Church open their doors to the community by inviting everyone in to learn about Christ and to grow in their faith. Calvary Road Christian School, Grace Christian School, and Community Christian Academy teach every class through the lens of the Gospel. Care Net offers help and hope to pregnant mothers in need by supporting one of the largest networks of pregnancy centers, churches and volunteers in the U.S.

“Now, the very essence of these ministries is in jeopardy,” it says.

The faith of many Americans inspires them to act for the good of their neighbors and also requires them to abide by its teachings, said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle.

“Our clients offer spiritual guidance, education, pregnancy support, and athletic opportunities to their communities because of the religious beliefs that motivate them,” Harle said. “But Virginia’s new law forces these ministries to abandon and adjust their convictions or pay crippling fines—in direct violation of the Virginia Constitution and other state laws. Such government hostility toward people of faith has no place in a free society.”

ADF attorneys have also filed suit in federal court on behalf of Loudoun County wedding photographer Bob Updegrove, who asserts that the law could force him to photograph a same-sex wedding despite his personal opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Each American, including artists, should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of unjust punishment,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives. “Because of Virginia’s new law, photographers like Bob face an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against their faith, or close down. The government cannot demand that artists create content that violates their deepest convictions.”

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