Religious Groups Sue Virginia Over Law Protecting Gay Rights

October 5, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
Alexandria Federal Courthouse. (Photo by Dan McCue)

RICHMOND, Va. – Religious groups and a wedding photographer are suing the state of Virginia over a new law that bans discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender persons.

The law is directed primarily against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, such as restaurants and stores. Violators could be fined $50,000 for each offense.

The plaintiffs say the Virginia Values Act forces them to violate their own convictions. They call it an infringement upon their First Amendment rights to religious freedom.

“Now the very essence of these ministries is in jeopardy,” the lawsuit by the church groups says.

The law also bans discrimination on the basis of race, religion, disability and status as a veteran. It took effect July 1.

“But rather than protect values, the Act forces people of faith to adopt a particular government ideology under threat of punishment,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit was filed in Loudoun County Circuit Court by two churches, a religious school and a pregnancy center. It also says the law could compel them to hire employees who do not share their religious beliefs.

The medical benefits they are required to offer employees could be used for sex reassignment surgery, despite the churches’ preachings against it, the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz. 

“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,” an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement. “Such government hostility toward people of faith has no place in a free society.”

A second lawsuit filed this week by wedding photographer Bob Updegrove argues the law could make him photograph same-sex weddings despite his moral opposition to them.

Updegrove also is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom for his lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

Jonathan Scruggs, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, called the Virginia Values Act unfair to photographers.

“The government cannot demand that artists create content that violates their deepest convictions,” Scruggs said in a statement posted on the Alliance Defending Freedom’s website. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that churches cannot be required to hire someone outside their faith as a leader or clergy. However, they cannot use religious affiliation as a basis for rejecting applicants for non-religious jobs, such as a janitor or cafeteria worker.

Churches also can restrict use of their buildings or other facilities to their members, the Supreme Court has ruled. They cannot legally exclude their members because of their sexual orientation.

The strongest support for the Virginia Values Act came from the gay rights group Equality Virginia. The group claims to have other supporters among a coalition of religious leaders.

“Protecting LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination does not threaten [religious] freedom,” Equality Virginia said in a statement. “That’s why people of faith across the state advocated with us in support of the Virginia Values Act—because of their deep faith—not in spite of it.”

The lawsuit names as defendants Virginia’s Democratic Attorney General Mark R. Herring and R. Thomas Payne II, director of the Virginia Division of Human Rights and Fair Housing.

A spokeswoman for Herring said he was reviewing the lawsuit and “looks forward to defending the Virginia Values Act in court against these attacks.”

State News

Georgia's Tilt Toward Blue an Ominous Specter for GOP Heading into Election
2020 Elections
Georgia's Tilt Toward Blue an Ominous Specter for GOP Heading into Election
October 24, 2020
by Dan McCue

President Donald Trump was in his element. Standing before more than 1,000 supporters who had jammed a large hanger facility at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Ga., he promised a "red wave" would crush Democrats in November. He had not a moment of doubt, he... Read More

Washington's Mandatory Sex-education Referendum Tests Conservative Power at the Ballot Box
State News
Washington's Mandatory Sex-education Referendum Tests Conservative Power at the Ballot Box

SEATTLE — This spring, as the coronavirus spread across Washington, a team of stalwart volunteers set up signature-gathering drive-thrus outside churches and stores. Their aim: to put a referendum on the November ballot overturning a new law that required public schools to teach comprehensive sexual health education. Thousands... Read More

Health Care Groups Dive Into California Property Tax Ballot Fight, Eyeing Public Health Money
State News
Health Care Groups Dive Into California Property Tax Ballot Fight, Eyeing Public Health Money

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A November ballot initiative to raise property taxes on big-business owners in California is drawing unconventional political support from health care power players and public health leaders. They see Proposition 15 as a potential savior for chronically underfunded local health departments struggling to respond to the... Read More

States Lose Fight to Get Postal Service Outside Monitor for Election Mail
State News
States Lose Fight to Get Postal Service Outside Monitor for Election Mail

WASHINGTON — States that claim changes by the U.S. Postal Service will threaten mail-in voting failed again to get an independent monitor appointed to observe the agency's compliance with a court order. U.S. District Judge Gerald Austin McHugh in Philadelphia on Wednesday denied a request from Pennsylvania's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, to assign a former USPS... Read More

Supreme Court Pumps Brakes on Curbside Voting in Alabama
State News
Supreme Court Pumps Brakes on Curbside Voting in Alabama
October 22, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court put the brakes on a lower court order that would have allowed curbside voting in Alabama in November. The underlying lawsuit was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy... Read More

'Character Matters,' Obama Tells a Drive-in Rally for Biden in Philadelphia
2020 Elections
'Character Matters,' Obama Tells a Drive-in Rally for Biden in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA — Former President Barack Obama delivered a punishing rebuke of his successor Donald Trump's tenure and a clarion call to supporters for his old running mate Joe Biden at a drive-in rally outside Citizens Bank Park as the sun set Wednesday night. Trump's tone and the misinformation he spreads have poisoned American political discourse,... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top