Forty churches, schools, and businesses have signed a letter to Governor Ralph Northam, asking him not to enforce the Virginia Values Act (VVA), which was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Northam last April. In Northam’s press release, proponents of the bill said it would protect LGBTQ Virginians from workplace discrimination, but religious leaders warn that the bill threatens a $100,000 fine if religious organizations refuse to hire someone who doesn’t agree with their beliefs on marriage or sexuality.
“The Act threatens to undermine the very mission that holds us together,” the letter states. “It would force us to violate our central purpose by stripping us of our right to hire employees who agree with and live by our mission and core beliefs. That Act also prohibits us from using our facilities and ministering to the community in accordance with those beliefs. In doing so, it penalizes people of faith for trying to adhere to our own values.”
In the April press release, Northam said, “This legislation sends a strong, clear message – Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family.”
Northam added, “We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly. No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are.”
The letter was published by the American Defense Fund (ADF), a legal organization that is suing Northam on behalf of Calvary Road Baptist Church and three additional churches because of the VVA. ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said the government has filed a preliminary response asking for the lawsuit to be thrown out on the grounds that the manner of enforcement of the law is unclear.
Theriot told The Virginia Star, “Of course, that’s too late at this point, when you’ve got the government telling you that you have to violate your own beliefs and if you [don’t], you’re subject to a $50,000 fine for the first offense and $100,000 for each subsequent offense.”
Theriot expects the courts to allow the lawsuit to proceed. “I don’t think the government’s going to be able to shut this down because the law is in place. It makes our clients’ decisions regarding their employment and making sure they only can hire employees that agree with their mission, it makes that illegal.”
Theriot said, “We’re asking the court to make a declaration that it doesn’t apply to non-profit ministries like our clients, and to enter an injunction preventing the Attorney General from enforcing it against them.”
An ADF press release states, “This law strips faith-based organizations, such as Calvary Road Baptist Church, of their right to minister and hire employees according to their mission and core beliefs. Calvary Road believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that God created humanity as immutably male and female. Virginia’s new laws are intended to force churches and other organizations with biblical beliefs to choose between risking bankruptcy while being punished for their religious convictions, or abandoning their ministries all together.”
Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said in Northam’s press release, “Sadly, during times of crisis like these, discrimination rises, and its effects become more apparent. When jobs are scarce and housing unaffordable, the reality of who you are must be an additional hurdle to putting food on the table or providing shelter for your family. This law provides important new protections.”
“The Commonwealth of Virginia should not be interfering with our ability to accomplish our charitable missions through shared religious beliefs—let alone targeting our views with hostility,” the ADF letter states. “The Virginia Constitution guarantees that such religious beliefs “can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force.” But if the Commonwealth insists on forcing us to choose between bankruptcy and our beliefs, our communities will suffer as we shutter our doors.”
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