Skip to main content
Hero Image
Blog

In Virginia, Huge Fines for Churches and Ministries Operating According to Beliefs

By John Harding posted on:
June 23, 2020

On July 1, churches, Christian schools, and other religious ministries with theologically orthodox views on marriage will no longer be welcome in Virginia.

And if you are among those operating a ministry in accordance with your religious beliefs about marriage and human sexuality, the state has declared a sort-of legal “open season” on you. The first offense comes with a fine of up to $50,000. Subsequent offenses come with fines of up to $100,000!

The message is clear: Virginia will crush you if you disobey.

So what exactly does this Virginia law do? Because the SOGI language is an addition to existing law, it isn’t easy for the public to see how they are impacted or how state law has changed.

But the changes in the law are significant and alarming. Let’s take a look at just a few of the implications for churches, Christian schools, and ministries.

 

1. If you make employment decisions based on your employees’ actions—which contradict your religious beliefs—you could be the target of a lawsuit.

Virginia’s law allows religious organizations to prefer applicants “of a particular religion.” That should allow employers to hire those who not only agree with their religious beliefs but also abide by religious conduct standards. But not everyone sees it that way.

ADF and its allies asked the General Assembly to clarify religious employers’ freedom. They refused. As a result, if a ministry makes employment decisions based on behavior, it could be subject to a lawsuit.

 

2. Religious schools may be forbidden from only admitting students who align with the schools’ beliefs.

The ability for schools to remain religious is challenged when the law says schools cannot make admission decisions based on student conduct or their families’ religious beliefs. This is in direct opposition to the ethos of so many religious schools, because such a large part of the special environment of a religious education is dependent on the students’ peers and the community as a whole.

Religious schools must have the freedom to admit students and families who share its beliefs—beliefs manifested both in doctrine and in practice.

 

3. Ministries who offer housing may be forced to combine rooms for men and women.

The new law requires that housing providers allow males who identify as female be allowed to access sleeping spaces intended for women.

Laws like Virginia’s unnecessarily put women in harm’s way. In Alaska, government officials used a similar law to investigate a homeless shelter, Downtown Hope Center, which offers job skills training, daily meals, laundry, and clothing for any man or woman in need during the day—all free of charge. But because the Hope Center doesn’t allow males to stay at the women’s-only shelter at night—which provides a safe place for women who have escaped sex trafficking, domestic violence, rape and other emotional and physical abuse—the government went after this ministry and pressured it to accept men into its women’s only shelter.

Like this Anchorage law, Virginia’s law could be interpreted to include housing providers beyond women’s shelters—it might even impact college dorms.

 

4. The Virginia law may threaten free speech.

People may be forced to refer to customers, employees, and co-workers by pronouns for the opposite sex, or even by newly invented pronouns for neither sex. When conformity is the goal of the law—as it seems to be in this case—government officials may enforce the law contrary to what the Constitution requires.

The free-speech consequences of this law will be real. Just ask Peter Vlaming, who lost his job at a Virginia public school for following his conscience when it came to the use of pronouns. Peter offered a compromise that respected the student who identified as transgender, as well as his own beliefs, but that was not enough.

 

5. The law allows Virginia to hijack health plans.

Under this new law, the government is requiring insurance companies to include so-called “sex reassignment” interventions in the health plans they sell. There is no religious exemption. Churches and ministries will no longer be able to buy employee health insurance policies that reflect their religious beliefs.

Other states like California have already attempted to force churches to cover abortion in their health plans. It seems this tactic is now part of the routine playbook of weaponizing health insurance contrary to religious organizations’ beliefs.

 

Officials who enacted the Virginia law have revealed that they do not respect our constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. Sincerity and conviction—you can now check those at the Virginia border.

If you are considering ways in which you can help protect the religious freedom of your church or ministry, we invite you to learn more about ADF Church Alliance or ADF Ministry Alliance. Through membership, ADF attorneys can help you navigate the religious freedom implications of decisions made by your leadership team. In this Virginia situation and others, we will be advocating on behalf of your religious freedom.

ADF CHURCH ALLIANCE    ADF MINISTRY ALLIANCE


John Harding

John Harding

Communications Specialist

John is a Grove City College graduate and serves as a communications specialist at Alliance Defending Freedom.


Religious Freedom

A Look at The Unjust Treatment of Churches During COVID-19 Shutdowns

The government has a duty to uphold the First Amendment, and it should not be singling out churches with extra regulations.

Religious Freedom

Supreme Court Upholds Rights of Religious Schools to Choose Who Teaches

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court affirmed that religious schools can decide who teaches their faith. This is an important victory for all religious schools!

Religious Freedom

Supreme Court Vacates Ruling that Would Have Forced Orgs Like March for Life to Pay for Abortions

The March for Life Education and Defense Fund has kept busy in the courts the past several years, standing up for its right to operate according to its convictions.