LEESBURG, Va. — Three Christian schools and two of the churches that operate them, along with a pregnancy care center network, have filed a preemptive lawsuit to challenge the 2020 “Virginia Values Act,” which they say would prohibit them from firing those whose lifestyles are contrary to the ministries’ purpose and mission.
“The Virginia Bill of Rights and the Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act were enacted to protect the ministries’ freedom to conduct their religious operations in ways that align with their faith,” the lawsuit states. “[The plaintiffs] file this pre-enforcement challenge to clarify and protect these religious liberty and free speech rights so they can continue to speak and minister consistent with their religious beliefs — even if the government finds those beliefs repugnant to its own preferred orthodoxy.”
As previously reported, S.B. 868, also known as the Virginia Values Act, became law on July 1 after being signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in April. Under the law employers may not “hire, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to such individual’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s … sexual orientation [or] gender identity.”
Employers may be deemed engaged in an “unlawful employment practice” when sexual orientation or gender identity is “a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivate the practice.”
A civil discrimination lawsuit could result in fines up to $100,000 for each violation, along with any compensatory and punitive damages awarded by a court.
Therefore, Calvary Road Baptist Church and its Calvary Road Christian School, Community Fellowship Church and its Grace Christian School, and Community Christian Academy, along with the crisis pregnancy center Care Net, have filed suit to ensure that they have the ability to operate in accordance with their faith without fear of punishment.
“Calvary Road Christian School, Grace Christian School, and Community Christian Academy could be forced to retain teachers who are in same-sex relationships while teaching students that such behavior violates their faith,” the legal challenge states.
“The schools could also be forced to retain guidance counselors who take gender-suppressing hormones or who undergo sex reassignment surgeries in an attempt to change the sex given to them by God.”
“Because SB 868 creates doubt about whether the ministries can employ only individuals who share all of their religious beliefs and will act in accordance with those beliefs on marriage, sexuality, and gender, the Act chills the ministries’ religious exercise by creating a risk of legal liability,” it contends.
The ministries interpret the text as affecting not only their hiring and firing practices but as also requiring the accommodation of transgenders in restroom areas and prohibiting the use of wrong pronouns, which could be deemed unlawful discrimination.
“Rather than protect values, the Act forces people of faith to adopt a particular government ideology under threat of punishment,” the complaint states. “Defendants substantially burden the ministries’ religious exercise when they force them to choose between either following their religious commitments and suffering debilitating punishment or violating their consciences to avoid those punishments.”
The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Act violates their religious rights under the Virginia Constitution and the Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as an injunction preventing the State from enforcing it against religious entities.
Attorney General Mark Herring has asked a Loudoun County Circuit Court to dismiss the legal challenge, arguing that the complaint is “entirely speculative.”
“The passage of the Virginia Values Act was a monumental achievement and the Commonwealth became the first southern state to enact these sweeping anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community,” Herring said in a statement. “We are all Virginians, and we all deserve to be treated fairly and to live free of fear of discrimination just for who we love, what we look like, where we come from or how we worship.”
“I won’t stop defending the Virginia Values Act and all other Virginia anti-discrimination statutes so we can continue to protect Virginia’s LGBT community.”
As previously reported, in July, a photographer also filed suit against the Virginia Values Act as he believes it would prohibit him from declining to participate in same-sex engagement or wedding photo shoots. Another photographer also filed suit in September.