“That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience...” -Constitution of Virginia, Article I, Section 16
That phrase, drafted in 1880, remains a part of the Constitution of Virginia even today.
Regrettably, new legislation seeks to turn its back on the state constitution, as well as the U.S. Constitution.
Today, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are representing wedding photographer Bob Updegrove in the Eastern District Court of Virginia as he challenges the state’s “Virginia Values Act.”
Enacted July 1, the “Virginia Values Act” forbids Updegrove from publicly explaining on his studio’s own website the religious reasons for why he only celebrates wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman. Virginia considers such communications “discriminatory” on the basis of sexual orientation. It also threatens initial fines of up to $100,000 per violation, as well as unlimited attorney’s fees and damages.
Court orders could also force Updegrove to photograph events against his conscience if he wants to stay in business.
A state that once encouraged its citizens to serve their Creator and obey their conscience without fear of force or violence now sings a very different tune: close your business, defy your conscience, or suffer the consequences.
Bob Updegrove serves all people, but he doesn’t promote all messages. He, and other business owners in the state of Virginia, should not be compelled to express messages that violate their conscience. Not content to sit back and watch his freedoms disappear, Updegrove filed a lawsuit in late September with the help of ADF.
“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. “The government cannot demand that artists create content that violates their deepest convictions.”
A second lawsuit challenging the new law is also underway. Calvary Road Baptist Church v. Herring focuses on other aspects of the law that compel churches, religious schools, and Christian ministries to hire employees who do not share their stated beliefs on marriage, sexuality, and gender identity.
Over 40 churches, schools, and other local businesses have sent an open letter to Gov. Ralph Northam and members of the General Assembly, urging them not to enforce the law in such a way that it would require Virginians of faith to violate their conscience.
As the letter states: “Freedom will suffer, too, if the ‘Virginia Values Act’ is used as a weapon against our organizations and our values. Tolerance and respect for good‐faith differences are essential in a diverse society. We urge you to extend the same freedom to us that all Virginians are entitled to.”
Hopefully, Virginia is listening.
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