The anti-LGBTQ+ Alliance Defending Freedom has filed two lawsuits on behalf of clients who contend that Virginia’s new, inclusive civil rights law infringes on their religious liberty and freedom of speech.
None of the clients have been accused of violating the law, known as the Virginia Values Act, which took effect July 1 and bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But they say the very existence of the law threatens them.
In one suit, filed Monday in Loudoun County Circuit Court, Calvary Road Baptist Church, Community Fellowship Church — Christian schools associated with the churches — and a network of crisis pregnancy centers (aimed at discouraging abortion) called Care Net, say the law would force them “to abandon their core convictions in hiring and other policies or face fines up to $100,000 for each violation,” according to an ADF press release.
This would be like “forcing a Democratic candidate to hire a Republican speechwriter,” “forcing PETA to hire an employee who hunts on the weekends,” “forcing Planned Parenthood to hire a pro-life advocate,” or “forcing a kosher deli to serve ham products,” the ADF contends in an online statement.
The law has an exemption for religious employers, however. State Sen. Adam Ebbin, Virginia’s first out legislator, pointed out to The Washington Post that any church or ministry can limit hiring of the clergy or other leaders to members of its own faith, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.
For employees not involved in ministry, “the law is more nuanced,” the Post reports. “Religious schools or other entities are allowed to limit employment to members of their faith, but if they make any exceptions, they cannot use faith as a basis to reject others.”
“If they wish to limit their membership and activities to people of their faith tradition, they can,” Ebbin told the paper. “And I think that’s an appropriate place to draw the line.”
But ADF and its clients say this exemption doesn’t go far enough. Their suit asks the court to declare that the law violates their rights under the Virginia constitution and does not apply to them or “other similarly situated religious organizations” at all.
In the other suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, photographer Bob Updegrove says that because of his Christian beliefs, he would not photograph same-sex couples’ weddings or engagement celebrations. However, he says, the law would force him to provide this service for same-sex couples if he does so for opposite-sex couples, or else face fines of up to $100,000. This is a violation of his rights to free speech and free exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the suit contends.
Another photographer, Chris Herring, also represented by the ADF, had filed a similar suit in federal court just before the law took effect. But he dropped it this week because he will probably be moving to another state, Norfolk newspaper The Virginian-Pilot reports. He will be able to revive the suit if he wishes.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (not related to Chris) is still reviewing the new suits and preparing his response, spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer told the Washington Blade.
“Attorney General Herring believes that every Virginian has the right to be safe and free from discrimination no matter what they look like, where they come from, or who they love,” she said in a statement. “LGBT Virginians are finally protected from housing and employment discrimination under Virginia law and Attorney General Herring looks forward to defending the Virginia Values Act in court against these attacks.”