A Christian conservative legal group has filed lawsuits on behalf of nonprofit ministries and a photographer, saying a new Virginia law offering LGBTQ protections forces them to “abandon” their beliefs.
The Virginia Values Act offers sweeping protections to the state’s LGBTQ community in areas including housing, employment, public spaces and credit applications. It was signed into law in April.
But a group caled the Alliance Defending Freedom says the law has forced its clients “to abandon their core convictions in hiring and other polices or face fines up to $100,000 for each violation.”
“Our clients offer spiritual guidance, education, pregnancy support, and athletic opportunities to their communities because of the religious beliefs that motivate them,” ADF senior counsel Denise Harle said in a statement.
“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,” Harle added.
In a statement from his press secretary, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he looks forward to defending the Virginia Values Act in court.
“Attorney General Herring believes that every Virginian has the right to be safe and free from discrimination no matter what they look like, where they come from, or who they love,” Press Secretary Charlotte P.L. Gomer told CNN.
“LGBT Virginians are finally protected from housing and employment discrimination under Virginia law and Attorney General Herring looks forward to defending the Virginia Values Act in court against these attacks.”
What the lawsuits claim
The ADF is representing the Calvary Road Baptist Church, Community Fellowship Church, Community Christian Academy and Care Net, a pregnancy center in one lawsuit and photographer Bob Updegrove in the other.
In Calvary Road Baptist Church v. Herring, the ADF says its clients believe “marriage is between one man and one woman, and that God created humanity as immutably male and female. ”
The Virginia Values Act, it claims, forces churches and other organizations with similar beliefs to choose between “risking bankruptcy while being punished for their religious convictions, or abandoning their ministries all together.”
Updegrove, according to ADF, is a Virginia-based photographer who also owns a photography studio.
He creates art “to promote messages consistent with his convictions, including his convictions about marriage,” ADF said.
The state’s law, ADF says, forces him “to create photographs celebrating same-sex weddings or stop his wedding business altogether” and forbids him to explain on his business’ website “his religious reasons for only creating artwork consistent with his beliefs about marriage.”
“Artists should be free to choose the messages they promote,” the ADF argues in a statement.