RICHMOND, Va. — A number of churches, faith-based schools and businesses have signed an open letter to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, asking him not to enforce the so-called “Virginia Values Act” in a way that attempts to “force” Christians to violate their deeply-held convictions under penalty of law that includes up to $100,000 in fines for each infraction.
“We, the undersigned religious organizations and ministries, urge you to refuse to enforce the so-called Virginia Values Act in a way that would force Virginians of faith to violate their consciences,” the letter reads. “Applying this new law against faith-based entities is antithetical to the foundational belief in religious freedom that the Commonwealth was built upon.”
“Everyone should be free to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of unjust government punishment — regardless of whether those beliefs are religious. Our government should protect, not threaten, this freedom,” it states.
As previously reported, S.B. 868, also known as the Virginia Values Act, became law on July 1 after being signed by Gov. 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.
It is believed that the law does not exempt religious entities, thus prohibiting Christian schools, churches and other facilities from declining to hire, or terminating the employment of, an individual whose lifestyle contradicts the faith-based standards and teachings of those ministries and businesses.
While disputed by Northam’s office, it is contended that a companion law also does not allow employers to exclude sex change-related operations from their health care coverage plans.
In September, 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, 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 in part.
Now, numerous other churches, Christian schools, ministries and businesses have joined an open letter asking Northam not to put them in a position where they would have to “choose between bankruptcy and our beliefs.”
“The Act threatens to undermine the very mission that holds us together. 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,” the letter states. “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.”
Signees of the document include Church on the Hill in Fishersville, CrossLife Community Church in Charlottesville, Harvester Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Keystone Baptist Church in Berryville, Rejoicing Life Church in Stuarts Draft, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Grove Christian School in Richmond, Faith Christian Academy in Hurt, Hunter Classical Christian School in Manakin-Sabot, Ocean View Christian Academy and Preschool in Norfolk, and the Association of Christian Schools International in Washington, D.C.