It happened in Jerusalem and it was the greatest blow struck in the ancient world on behalf of the establishment of individual liberty when Peter and the other apostles replied to the order of the Jewish authorities to shut up about the recently executed Jesus.
“We must obey God rather than men,” they said, according to Acts 5:29.
There is nothing else said or done in the ancient world, not in Rome or Athens or anywhere else, that so clearly established that the state is not the ultimate authority and is in fact subordinate to God.
You want to trace the path that led to the “inalienable rights” of the Declaration of Independence? You gotta start with this courageous statement by Peter and the other apostles.
Of course, shortly after uttering those words, the apostles were flogged for their efforts to proclaim that Jesus Christ had been crucified dead and buried, then resurrected as proof that He is exactly what He claimed to be, God Incarnate.
The state never gives up its presumption of ultimate authority easily and those floggings were succeeded by a dreary succession down through the centuries of persecution, including far more cruel and horrific beheadings, burnings at the stake, and drawing and quartering of Christians who refused to bow down to any but the sovereign Lord.
They don’t face such severe trials in Virginia, not yet anyway, but Christians there must cope with a new law that constitutes nothing short of official persecution. And they are doing something about it, going to court to challenge the Virginia Values Act (VVA) in the Loudoun County Circuit Court. The case is Calvary Road Baptist Church v. Herring.
What is so bad about the VVA? According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), whose lawyers are in court on behalf of a coalition of local churches and faith-based groups, the VVA, the law:
Compels churches, religious schools, and Christian ministries to hire employees who do not share their stated beliefs on marriage, sexuality, and gender identity. A companion law requires the ministries and others like them to include in employee health care plans coverage 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.
The VVA’s most prominent advocate is Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the liberal Democrat made famous for his collegiate exploits wearing blackface on campus social occasions. Were Northam a Republican who did those things, he would no longer be Virginia’s chief executive, having been run out of office by Cancel Culture’s cacophony of enforcers of contemporary secular progressive orthodoxy.
The ADF barristers have quite an enviable record on behalf of religious freedom, having won 12 significant Supreme Court victories in recent years. They sound confident about this case, too:
“Religious organizations are free to make employment decisions without fear of government punishment, yet a Virginia law is violating this protected freedom by requiring them to abandon their beliefs or pay a devastating price,” ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle said in a statement announcing the suit against the VVA.
“Virginia communities benefit greatly from the services provided by churches and faith-based schools and nonprofits, and 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,” she continued.
Similarly, ADF’s Kevin Theriot, who is vice president of ADF’s Center for Life, declared in the same statement:
Being able to freely live and work according to one’s beliefs is fundamental to who we are as Americans and is protected by the Constitution. What we’re seeing in Virginia, however, are government officials trying to control churches and religious groups and force them to abandon their convictions. The commonwealth has no business dictating how a faith-based organization should handle its employment decisions.
As it happens, there is no predicting how a Virginia state court will rule on such issues these days, but if ADF takes this one to the federal level, odds are quite positive, thanks in no small part to a recent decision by the Federal Appeals Court for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago.
There, the judges reversed an appellate panel’s prior decision against the Archbishop of Chicago and Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Calumet City, Illinois. The lower court had agreed the Catholic church could not fire former music director Sandor Demkovich.
Demkovich claimed he was terminated because he is gay and married to another gay man, and that he was the victim of a hostile work environment stemming from the same factors.
Demkovich lost because, the court ruled, a ruling in his favor “would not only undercut a religious organization’s constitutionally protected relationship with its ministers, but also cause civil intrusion into, and excessive entanglement with, the religious sphere.” The kind of intrusion and entanglement that is barred by the First Amendment.
“Worship is sacred. That’s why worship leaders who select and perform elements of worship are ministers of the faith, conveying its teachings to the faithful,” said Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which also has an enviable litigation record on behalf of religious freedom.
“That’s also why the church — not the state — gets to make sure that its music ministers are directing its congregation in a way that’s faithful to its beliefs,” Blomberg said.
Between the Seventh Circuit opinion, multiple recent opinions in the U.S. Supreme Court, and an impressive record of litigation compiled by ADF, defenders of the VVA might be well advised to back off in Virginia. Their vessel has D-E-F-E-A-T written all over it.
An earlier version of this article stated that ADF was representing a coalition of churches in Loudon County. In fact, the organization is representing churches from across the state.