Which Virginians’ values?
Religious Liberty | Christians push back against sweeping state nondiscrimination laws
by Steve West
Posted 10/05/20, 05:10 pm
Two churches, three Christian schools, and a crisis pregnancy center filed a lawsuit in state court on Monday against the Virginia Values Act. The plaintiffs say the law, far from reflecting their values, unconstitutionally imposes an LGBT ideology contrary to their religious beliefs. They also take aim at a companion law that requires employers to cover sex reassignment and “gender-affirming” surgeries in employee health plans. Another provision bars ministries from offering single-sex classes and activities.
Photographer Bob Updegrove in Leesburg, Va., separately challenged the Virginia Values Act on Monday for requiring him to take pictures at same-sex weddings and prohibiting him from explaining his Biblical views on marriage on his website.
Virginia enacted the two laws after Democrats took control of the state legislature in the November 2019 election. Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation, described the Virginia Values Act as an “alarming new law, as it actually forces churches, religious schools, and nonprofit ministries to surrender their values when they come into conflict with the LGBT agenda.”
While the law purports to allow religious employers to hire fellow believers, Cobb said the exemption means little. Religious groups can base hiring, firing, and admissions decisions only on how persons classify themselves with regard to religious categories, not on whether they hold similar beliefs, particularly about marriage and sexuality.
“A Catholic school, for example, is permitted to hire only Catholics, but it is not permitted to hire Catholics who only follow Catholic doctrine,” Cobb said.
Violating either nondiscrimination law carries heavy penalties, including an initial fine of up to $50,000, plus $100,000 for each additional violation. Court orders could force religious employers to choose between compliance and going out of business.
Cobb said she hopes the state legislature will amend the law to further protect religious businesspeople, but lawmakers do not reconvene until January 2021. In the meantime, courts could intervene. Recent Supreme Court cases such as 2018’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and this summer’s Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru protected religious people and institutions from having to follow requirements contrary to their faith.
“These bills are motivated by blatant hostility toward anyone who dissents from the sexual ideology of the secular left,” Cobb said. “The Supreme Court has sent a clear message that the government cannot be hostile toward religious Americans.”
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Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.