Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James Plowman dismissed a challenge to the Virginia Values Act (VVA) Friday. A group including churches and schools sued the State Corporation Commission (SCC), Attorney General Mark Herring, and Virginia Division of Human Rights and Fair Housing Director Thomas Payne, II in October 2020. They argue that the VVA and a related insurance law violate the organizations’ freedom of religion and speech.
The organizations, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, say the law potentially compels them to hire people who do not hold their religious beliefs, and the insurance law could force organizations to help pay for abortions.
“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 states.
However, Plowman found that his court did not have jurisdiction over the SCC.
Additionally, Office of the Attorney General lawyer Jessica Samuels argued that the law had not been enforced, and as a result, there was no religious freedom or freedom of speech violation. Samuels also said the Attorney General doesn’t enforce insurance law.
Plowman dismissed the case, but he made it clear it was a question of standing, not a judgement on the merits of the case.
The ADF is representing Calvary Road Baptist Church and its school; Community Fellowship Church and its school; Community Christian Academy; and pregnancy center network Care Net.
“The judge today dismissed our claim challenging the [VVA]. His interpretation was that there had not yet been any infringement yet against the ministries and he thought that was reason enough to dismiss the case. This however is contrary to America jurisprudence and Virginia jurisprudence. Pre-enforcement challenges are the hallmark of civil rights litigation,” ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle told The Virginia Star.
She said they will appeal, and the case could go before the Virginia Supreme Court.
“Americans have the right to challenge unjust laws. We don’t have to wait for the punishment,” she said.
Harle said the plaintiffs are already suffering harm due to the laws.
“The ministries have already removed speech from their website, their religious speech, and every day they’re chilled in their religious exercise and religious speech because so many of their policies, their faith-based policies are now banned under the [VVA].”
– – –