A group of churches and private schools, as well as one pregnancy center, have sued Virginia over a recently enacted law extending anti-discrimination employment protections to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
Calvary Road Baptist Church of Fairfax County and its school, Community Fellowship Church of Staunton and its school, Community Christian Academy of Charlottesville, and Care Net of Loudon County filed the suit last week.
At issue is the Virginia Values Act, also known as Senate Bill 868, an anti-discrimination measure that was passed in April and went into effect in July.
According to the complaint, the new law forces the plaintiffs to compromise various hiring and employment practices based on their sincerely-held religious beliefs.
Stated examples include being forced to “hire employees who do not share and follow their beliefs on biblical marriage, sexuality, and gender,” “prohibit the Ministries from terminating employees who oppose their missions and convictions,” and “make the Ministries use their facilities in a way that contradicts biblical teachings on sexuality, marriage, and gender.”
“SB 868 puts the Ministries in an impossible position: they must either abandon the religious convictions they were founded upon, or be ready to face investigations, an onerous administrative process, fines up to $100,000 for each violation, unlimited compensatory and punitive damages and attorney-fee awards, and court orders forcing them to engage in actions that would violate their consciences,” stated the complaint.
The group of Christian ministries are being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm that often handles high-profile religious liberty cases.
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ADF is also representing professional Christian photographer Chris Herring, who filed a pre-enforcement challenge lawsuit in July in district court against the Virginia Values Act.
“The Accommodations Clause [of the new law] forces Chris to provide photography services for same-sex engagements or weddings and would require Chris to promote messages that violate his religious beliefs or require him to participate in religious ceremonies that violate his religious beliefs,” read the July complaint in part.
The Virginia Values Act was sponsored by Democratic Senator Adam Ebbin and signed into law by Democratic Governor Ralph Northam.
In a statement released in April, Northam said the new act “sends a strong, clear message” that “Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family.”
“We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly,” stated the governor.
“No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are.”