In a stunning blow to religious freedom, a judge in Virginia ruled that religious organizations are merely "speculating" on how the Virginia Values Act would affect their operations and concluded that there was in fact no "actual controversy."
In April 2020, Governor Ralph Northam signed into law the Virginia Values Act or Senate Bill 868, which makes the state the first in the South to establish a major pro-LGBT push through comprehensive protections for LGBT individuals against discriminations in employment, housing, and more.
Virginia's S.B 868 was sponsored by Democratic Senator Adam Ebbin and like President Joe Biden's Equality Act, prohibits the discrimination of person based his or her sexual orientation and gender identity in "housing, public and private employment, public accommodations, and access to credit."
But not many people were happy about the pro-LGBT legislation, as S.B. 868 would infringe on the religious rights of churches and ministries, whose Bible teachings do not condone homosexuality. For Christian groups, S.B. 868 would infringe on their religious beliefs and would force them to acknowledge LGBT individuals in marriage, something that goes against Bible teachings.
The churches and ministries in Virginia, including the Calvary Road Baptist Church, Community Fellowship Church, Community Christian Academy, and pro-life ministry Care Net have come together in front of a Virginia judge to plead this case. However, Loudoun County Circuit Judge James Plowman disagreed. When posing the question "Are churches and ministries continuing to have difficulty from a new Virginia state law that bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity?" the VA judge answered "no."
According to Just the News, a Friday hearing with Judge Plowman came to the conclusion that the churches and ministries had made "speculative claims" about how the Virginia Values Act would truly affect them.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) senior counsel Denise Harle, who represents the churches and ministries in the fight for their religious rights, argued that they were being "forced into self-censorship fearing they'll otherwise be crushed by the harsh punishments created by the law."
Harle argued that the churches and ministries have already removed religious beliefs on biblical marriage, sexuality, and gender from their websites in fear of repercussions brought about by the S.B. 868's pro-LGBT legislation and to show they have standing to bring an "ordinary pre-enforcement challenge seeking a declaration of what the law means."
The U.S. Supreme Court orders that no religious organization is required to hire someone who isn't part of their faith as a minister or other leader. But S.B. 868 says that no one is allowed to discriminate based on gender identity and sexuality, which means that churches and ministries must comply and hire a person no matter if he or she is a part of their faith and if he or she is an LGBT individual.
While the law eliminates discrimination against LGBT communities, it infringes on the rights of Christian ministries and organizations to uphold their religious beliefs.
CBN News reported that in September 2020, ADF filed a pre-enforcement challenge for the churches and ministries to fight for their religious rights. The lawsuit aimed to convince the court that the implementation of S.B. 868 and its pro-LGBT push is unconstitutional.
But Judge Plowman dismissed their case, saying that the harm that the churches and ministries claim to have experienced is "self-inflicted" rather than forced by S.B. 868.