Three Christian schools and a Christian network of pregnancy centers are suing Attorney General Mark Herring (D-Va.) in order to prevent Virginia from implementing two pro-LGBT laws that force “people of faith to adopt a particular government ideology under threat of punishment.” The two laws purport to prevent “discrimination” against LGBT people but, in reality, they force Christian ministries to choose between violating their sincerely held religious beliefs or paying hefty fines, as much as $100,000 per offense.
The so-called Virginia Values Act (S.B. 868), which Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) signed on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday) in the middle of a pandemic, 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 (H.B. 1429) requires ministries and others like them to pay for transgender surgery in employee health care plans, a procedure that violates these ministries’ convictions.
“The faith of many Americans inspires them to act for the good of their neighbors and also requires them to abide by its teachings,” Denise Harle, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing the Christian ministries, said in a statement. “Our clients offer spiritual guidance, education, pregnancy support, and athletic opportunities to their communities because of the religious beliefs that motivate them. 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,” Harle argued.
The ministries filed a pre-enforcement challenge, a lawsuit designed to convince a court to prevent the government from implementing an unconstitutional law.
In the lawsuit, ADF is representing Calvary Road Christian School in Alexandria (preschool through 6th grade, 250 students), Grace Christian School in Staunton (preschool through 12th grade, 320 students), Community Christian Academy in Charlottesville (K-9, 50 students), and Care Net, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports a network of 1,100 pregnancy centers, churches, and other ministry organizations and has approximately 22,000 volunteers.
“For the Ministries, personnel is policy; and so they intentionally employ staff and recruit volunteers who further their respective Christian missions. Virginia’s new laws, however, make this free religious exercise and association impossible — and label these liberties ‘discrimination,'” the lawsuit argues.
S.B. 868 and H.B. 1429 require the ministries to hire employees who disagree with their beliefs on marriage, sexuality, and gender; mandate that the ministries hire employees whose beliefs and lifestyles are “antagonistic to the ministries’ convictions”; prohibit the ministries from firing employees who oppose their missions; require the ministries to provide services in a manner that violates their beliefs; ban the ministries from even communicating their biblical beliefs; make the ministries use their facilities in a way that contradicts their beliefs; and force the ministries to pay for “gender reassignment” procedures in their health plans, even though the ministries object to these procedures.
These laws put 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.”
The lawsuit brings five claims against AG Herring. It claims the LGBT laws violate the ministries’ right of free exercise of religion under the Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act; violate their right to free exercise of religion under the Virginia Constitution; violate their right to free speech under the Virginia Constitution; violate the Virginia Constitution’s Establishment Clause; and violate the state constitution’s Due Process Clause.
While the state constitution’s “Establishment Clause requires the government to act with a secular purpose and to neither promote nor inhibit religion,” the Virginia Values Act “targets the Ministries by singling out their religious speech and belief for hostility, and by showing favoritism towards, preferring, and promoting religious beliefs that approve of same-sex marriage and transgender ideology.”
The pro-LGBT law “also singles out the Ministries based on disfavored religious views and sends a message that religious persons with beliefs like the Ministries’ are second-class citizens, outsiders, and not full members of the community.”
Anti-religious bigotry fueled the Virginia Values Act
The lawsuit notes that the Virginia legislators who supported the Virginia Values Act expressed hostility to those who view marriage as between one man and one woman.
When considering SB 41 2016, a bill that would have allowed religious persons to object to solemnizing a marriage “in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief … that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman,” State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) condemned the bill, claiming it “carves out a space for bigotry cloaked under the guise of religious freedom.” Ebbin was the chief patron of the Virginia Values Act in the Senate.
During a debate in the Virginia House of Delegates over an amendment to the Virginia Values Act that would have excluded “a religious corporation, association, society, or unincorporated house of worship” from the definition of public accommodations, Delegate Joshua Cole (D-28) asserted his view of Christianity as the correct one in opposing the amendment:
I understand we have theological disagreements and we have theological beliefs of what we’re supposed to carry out, but if you are a public organization, your doors are supposed to be open to everyone in the public. Now I don’t know what type of Christianity you come from, but the type of Christianity I come from, the Apostle Paul said “Try with everything within you to live peaceably with all men.”
…The Bible also says “And they shall know us by our love.” What are we doing with our witness when we allow organizations to say just because we have St. Peter’s behind it, or Christian behind it, … that we don’t like you so don’t come over here…. Madame Speaker as an ending thought, I will let you know that in Jesus’ day the sinner was not his enemy. It was the church.
These and other Virginia Democrats showed the very same kind of hostility to conservative religious beliefs about marriage that members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed toward Christian baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the commission had violated Phillips’ right to the free exercise of religion by subjecting him to “religious hostility” in its application of the law.
This hostility is not limited to the legislators, however. AG Herring has repeatedly insisted that if wedding photographers refuse to help celebrate same-sex weddings, they are discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Mark Herring said as much in amicus curiae briefs in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018) and in Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey (2019), two cases on the issue of whether or not bakers and photographers have the free speech and religious freedom right to refuse to serve same-sex weddings.
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Christian ministries were not pushing bigotry
Yet the ministries suing to stop the Virginia Values Act are not pushing bigotry — they merely intend to operate on the basis of their religious convictions.
The lawsuit explains why each of the ministries cannot simply adopt the government ideology on LGBT issues.
For example, Calvary Road Baptist Church, which operates Calvary Road Christian School, “believes that the Bible is the Word of God, divinely revealed and without error.”
“Calvary Road believes that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female, and that these two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. Calvary Road believes that rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person,” the lawsuit explains. “Calvary Road believes that marriage has only one meaning: the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture, and that God commands that sexual intimacy occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other.”
“To preserve its function and integrity, Calvary Road believes that all employees and volunteers must agree to and abide by its beliefs on marriage, sexuality, and gender,” and the school runs athletics based on biological sex. “Calvary Road maintains separate facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms for males and females. Access to private facilities is limited to those of the same biological sex in accordance with Calvary Road’s teaching on sexuality.”
“Calvary Road welcomes workers of any race, color, ethnicity, and national origin in any of its ministries, so long as the potential workers share Calvary Road’s religious values and doctrinal beliefs,” but it cannot employ those who disagree with its fundamental beliefs.
ADF is also representing a wedding photographer, Chris Herring, who also brought a pre-enforcement challenge against the Virginia Values Act.
Anti-religious bigotry seems on the rise, with Democrats adopting extreme pro-LGBT and pro-abortion policies and legacy media outlets reporting Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s mainstream Christian beliefs as some sort of extreme religious insanity.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.