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Virginia: Abandon your beliefs or pay $100,000 fines

Christian photographer, various ministries challenge new state law forcing them to violate core convictions in speaking, hiring, health insurance, other policies

Published On: 9/29/2020

 

LEESBURG and ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing two churches, three schools, and a pregnancy center network filed suit in state court Monday to challenge a new Virginia law that forces the nonprofit ministries to abandon their core convictions in hiring and other polices or face fines up to $100,000 for each violation. ADF attorneys also filed suit in federal court on behalf of a Virginia wedding and special-event photographer challenging the same law for forcing him to use his artistic talents to photograph same-sex weddings if he photographs weddings between one man and one woman.

The Virginia Values Act, enacted July 1, compels churches, religious schools, and Christian ministries to hire employees who do not share their stated beliefs on marriage, sexuality, and gender identity. A companion law requires the ministries and others like them to include in employee health care plans coverage for sex reassignment and “gender affirming” surgeries that run contrary to their beliefs. It also prohibits the ministries from offering sex-specific classes for parenting, Christian discipleship, and sports.

“The faith of many Americans inspires them to act for the good of their neighbors and also requires them to abide by its teachings,” said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle. “Our clients offer spiritual guidance, education, pregnancy support, and athletic opportunities to their communities because of the religious beliefs that motivate them. But Virginia’s new law forces these ministries to abandon and adjust their convictions or pay crippling fines—in direct violation of the Virginia Constitution and other state laws. Such government hostility toward people of faith has no place in a free society.”

The law also forbids photographer Bob Updegrove from publicly explaining on his studio’s own website the religious reasons why he only celebrates wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman. Virginia considers such communications “discriminatory” on the basis of sexual orientation. The new law threatens initial fines of up to $50,000 and then $100,000 per additional violation, along with court orders that could force Updegrove to photograph events against his conscience if he wants to stay in business.

“Every American, including artists, should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of unjust punishment,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives. “Because of Virginia’s new law, photographers like Bob face an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against their faith, or close down. The government cannot demand that artists create content that violates their deepest convictions.”

ADF attorneys filed Calvary Road Baptist Church v. Herring in the Virginia Circuit Court for the County of Loudon. The complaint explains how the state’s law violates the Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act and various provisions of the Virginia Constitution, including Free Exercise, Free Speech, Freedom of Association, Establishment Clause, and Due Process rights.

The complaint in Updegrove v. Herring, which ADF attorneys filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, explains how the state law violates various provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses. Specifically, the lawsuit challenges Va. Code § 2.2-3904(B), which forces Updegrove to participate in and to create photographs promoting same-sex wedding ceremonies—all because he does the same to celebrate weddings between a man and a woman.

 


Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

 

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