Virginia won't force churches to hire LGBT individuals, cover gender reassignment surgeries

Calvary Road Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia
Calvary Road Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia | Google Maps

A group of Virginia churches, Christian schools and a pro-life pregnancy care center have the right to hire individuals who adhere to their religious beliefs amid concern about the impact of a state LGBT anti-discrimination law, according to a new legal settlement.

Calvary Road Baptist Church of Alexandria and its school, Community Fellowship Church of Staunton and its school, Community Christian Academy of Charlottesville and Care Net of Loudon County reached a settlement last week with Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares.

At issue was the Virginia Values Act, a measure signed into law in 2020 by then-Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam that added sexual orientation and gender identity to state anti-discrimination law, which the plaintiffs argued threatened religious freedom rights. 

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As part of the settlement, the attorney general has agreed not to "require Plaintiffs to employ individuals who do not profess and live according to religious beliefs held by Plaintiffs."

Additionally, the state will not force the plaintiffs to pay for or facilitate through its insurance plans any gender reassignment surgeries or hormonal interventions for gender dysphoria, which would violate the ministrys' beliefs about sex and gender.

Each party has also agreed to pay for their own legal expenses associated with the litigation, while defendants "do not admit any liability in this case."

The plaintiffs were represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group that has successfully argued religious liberty cases before the United States Supreme Court.

"Religious organizations are free to operate their ministries without fear of government punishment, and Virginia's law protects that foundational right," said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot in a statement released Monday.

"Our clients are motivated by their faith to offer spiritual guidance, education, pregnancy support, and athletic opportunities to their communities. The commonwealth must respect their right — just like anyone else's — to continue operating by their own internal policies and codes of conduct about life, marriage, and sexuality."

In 2020, the Democrat-controlled Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 868, which Democrat Gov. Northam signed into law that April. 

At the time, Northam claimed that the legislation "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," he said. "No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are."

The law became the subject of multiple lawsuits, including one filed by Calvary Road Baptist Church and the other Christian ministries, who argued that it failed to protect their religious objections.

In July 2021, Judge James E. Plowman Jr. ruled against the plaintiffs. The Christian ministry groups filed an appeal in response.

In November 2022, Republicans won the governorship of Virginia when Gov. Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe and gained several seats in the General Assembly.

Last November, Attorney General Miyares reached a settlement with Christian photographer Bob Updegrove, agreeing to not enforce the Virginia Values Act against him if he refused on religious grounds to provide services for a same-sex wedding ceremony.

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