A group of 40 Christian churches, schools, businesses, and organizations signed a letter urging Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia General Assembly to back off recent legislation that demands that religious establishments violate their beliefs regarding sexuality and gender.
The “Virginia Values Act,” which was enacted in July, requires even religious institutions to hire employees who do not necessarily share their convictions regarding homosexuality, marriage, and gender, as The Christian Post reported. Those who violate the act potentially face fines of up to $100,000.
House Bill No. 1429, also passed in July, amended the Virginia Code to mandate that even churches include sex change surgery in their health care plans.
Denise Harle, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the signatories of the letter, told The Christian Post: “Our clients offer spiritual guidance, education, pregnancy support, and athletic opportunities to their communities because of the religious values that motivate them.”
“But Virginia’s new law forces these ministries to abandon their convictions or pay crippling fines. Such government hostility has no place in a free society. Virginia ministries are committed to their faith, and they are asking that the state allow them to live and work according to their beliefs, as other Virginians are permitted to do,” Harle added.
The letter to Northam and the General Assembly reads:
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. 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.
Each one of us operates as an organization with core beliefs that knit our staff and volunteers together. These same convictions drive us to serve our communities with a particular mission. We are proud to live by the words of Section 16 of the Virginia Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, which declares: “it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”
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. 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.
The Commonwealth of Virginia should not be interfering with our ability to accomplish our charitable missions through shared religious beliefs—let alone targeting our views with hostility. The Virginia Constitution guarantees that such religious beliefs “can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force.” But if the Commonwealth insists on forcing us to choose between bankruptcy and our beliefs, our communities will suffer as we shutter our doors.
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.