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Religious Freedom Prevails After Christian Orgs Challenge Virginia ‘Values’ Act

Two churches, three schools, and a pregnancy center network secured their ability to operate according to their faith after challenging a Virginia law.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Calvary Road Baptist Church sign and building with cross

Everyone should be free to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of unjust government punishment.

Such a statement would be common sense to most Americans. It articulates the principles of the First Amendment to our Constitution that guarantee everyone’s freedom of speech and religion. It is a principle we would want extended to ourselves and our neighbors.

But many government officials don’t see it this way, and instead seek to control whether faith-based nonprofits and businesses can operate consistent with their beliefs. Such was the case in Virginia, where the so-called Virginia Values Act threatened religious organizations with fines of up to $100,000 per violation simply for following their faith’s teachings on marriage and sexuality.

Thankfully, after Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit, the state backed down and recognized these organizations’ ability to operate in accordance with their faith.

Decades of serving Virginia communities

ADF represented two churches, three schools, and a pregnancy center network who have served their communities for decades.

  • Every week, Calvary Road Baptist Church and Community Fellowship Church open their doors to the community by inviting everyone in to learn about Christ and grow in their relationship with him.
  • Calvary Road Christian School (a ministry of Calvary Road Baptist Church), Grace Christian School (a ministry of Community Fellowship Church), and Community Christian Academy educate their students by teaching each subject through the lens of the Gospel.
  • Care Net offers help and hope to pregnant mothers in need by supporting one of the largest networks of pregnancy centers, churches, and volunteers in the U.S.

Each organization uses its resources as an opportunity to share the love and teachings of Jesus Christ with their communities. And each organization hires staff and volunteers who agree with their statements of faith so that they can fulfill their mission.

But the Virginia Values Act threatened whether these nonprofit ministries could operate according to their religious beliefs.

The Virginia ‘Values’ Act violates religious freedom

In April 2020, then-Gov. Ralph Northam signed SB 868, the so-called Virginia Values Act, into law. He also signed a companion law, HB 1429.

The Virginia Values Act adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to already existing nondiscrimination laws (also called “SOGI” laws). While proponents of SOGI laws like the Virginia Values Act claim they merely protect people from discrimination, in reality, they’re much more complex—and much more dangerous.

Calvary Road Baptist Church challenged a Virginia law to defend its religious freedom.

In practice, this law stripped faith-based organizations, such as Calvary Road Baptist Church, of their right to operate according to their mission and core beliefs. It would have compelled churches, religious schools, and Christian ministries to hire employees who do not share their beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and gender identity—and even banned them from publishing their biblical beliefs on these topics.  It also prohibited the ministries from offering sex-specific Bible studies and youth activities. For each “violation” of the Virginia Values Act, these ministries would have faced fines of up to $100,000.

The companion law (HB 1429) was ready to require the ministries and others like them to include in employee health-care plans coverage for so-called “gender transition” surgeries to make people appear as the opposite sex. Enabling such procedures runs contrary to the ministries’ beliefs.

The government should protect religious freedom, not take it away, and that’s why ADF filed suit on behalf of these ministries in a pre-enforcement challenge.

Nonprofits free to operate according to their faith

After ADF filed a complaint on behalf of these ministries in 2020, the Circuit Court for Loudoun County dismissed the case in 2021, saying that nonprofits couldn’t challenge Virginia’s law until they were threatened with fines and prosecution.

But three new appellate rulings from around this same time led ADF to file a motion for reconsideration in light of the new information. One of these rulings was the 10th Circuit’s decision in another ADF case, 303 Creative v. Elenis. That court held that our client Lorie Smith had standing to challenge a similar Colorado law, but then ruled against her First Amendment claims. In 2023, the Supreme Court confirmed that Lorie had standing to challenge the law, but reversed the 10th Circuit’s First Amendment decision after holding that Colorado’s law violated her freedom to express messages consistent with her beliefs.

Later in 2023, ADF secured another victory at the Virginia Supreme Court in Vlaming v. West Point School Board. The ruling affirmed that Virginians have a right not to be forced to express messages that violate their beliefs.

Thankfully, in light of these rulings, Virginia officials agreed to settle this case in March 2024. Virginia acknowledged that Virginia law protects religious organizations’ ability to operate consistent with their faith, including the ability to hire only “individuals who profess and live according to religious beliefs held by [the ministries], including beliefs on abortion, marriage, sexuality, sex, and gender.”

Further, Virginia officials agreed that Virginia law protects the ministries from having to pay for or facilitate any gender dysphoria treatment that violates their religious teachings.

Calvary Road Baptist Church v. Miyares

  • April 2020: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Values Act into law. The act went into effect in July 2020.
  • September 2020: ADF attorneys filed a complaint on behalf of two churches, three schools, and a pregnancy center network challenging the Virginia Values Act.
  • July 2021: The first hearing for Calvary Road’s case was held.
  • August 2021: The Circuit Court for Loudoun County dismissed the case, saying that nonprofits couldn’t challenge Virginia’s law until threatened with prosecution. But in light of three new federal appellate decisions recognizing the ability to file similar challenges, ADF attorneys filed a motion for reconsideration.
  • March 2024: In a settlement of the lawsuit, Virginia officials conceded that Virginia law protects the religious organizations’ ability to operate consistent with their faith.