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VA Gov. Signs Law Protecting Any 'Outward Expression' of Religious Faith, Even Symbols, Clothing

06-02-2022

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a new law Friday that reinforces the Commonwealth's protections for religious freedom, clarifying that the freedom of expression for "religion" includes any outward display of religious faith. 

House Bill 1063 amends the Code of Virginia relating to public accommodations, employment, and housing; prohibited discrimination on the basis of religion. Religion as now defined by the state includes any outward expression of religious faith, including adherence to religious dressing and grooming practices and the carrying or display of religious items or symbols.

The law protects the use of symbols, like crosses or the Star of David, but also grooming practices, including beards, according to Christian Headlines

The bill was introduced by Delegate Irene Shin, who represents the 86th District which is part of the counties of Fairfax and Loudoun. 

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor applauded the new Virginia law and also commended Youngkin and the Virginia General Assembly for clarifying the expression of faith in the law. 

"All Americans are guaranteed the right to free speech and the free exercise of religion. Government officials have a duty to protect and promote these freedoms. HB 1063 provides a necessary and helpful clarification in the law to help ensure Virginians won't face discrimination simply for outwardly expressing their religious beliefs," Baylor said in a statement. 

"Virginia law forbids discrimination on the basis of religion in multiple contexts yet fails to define the actual term 'religion,' which can leave Virginians vulnerable to hostile reactions to expressions of their faith. We commend Gov. Youngkin and the Virginia General Assembly for resolving this ambiguity so that Virginians can freely live out their faith without fear of government punishment," the statement concluded. 

Expressions of Faith Have Come Under Fire

As CBN News has reported, outward expressions of faith have come under fire in recent years. 

Back in February, we told you the story of Malinda Babineaux, a practicing Apostolic Pentecostal Christian, who told her new employer Wellpath that she preferred to wear a skirt due to her religious beliefs. Wellpath turned down her request and rescinded her job offer.  

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took legal action in September 2020 on behalf of Babineaux, citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination against religious beliefs. The lawsuit also points out that Babineaux had worn a scrub skirt in previous nursing jobs, including at a juvenile correctional facility.

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate an applicant's or employee's religious beliefs unless it would pose an excessive burden.

As part of the settlement, Wellpath was required to provide back pay to the nurse, along with compensatory damages of $75,000. The company will also ensure that employees receive anti-discrimination training that includes attire and grooming.

Can a Public School Coach Take a Knee in Public?

Just two months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case regarding a Washington state high school football coach who was fired from his job for silently praying on the field after games.

Coach Joe Kennedy has been in a legal battle with the Bremerton School District since 2015. The district claimed that his actions violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. 

As CBN News previously reported, Kennedy received praise from multiple players, and even opposing team members, for having the courage to peacefully show his Christian faith. 

However, school officials claimed that those prayers might give the appearance that the district approved of Coach Kennedy's public prayers, creating a potential endorsement of religion. They eventually fired Kennedy, who calls that a violation of his right to free speech.

During the recent arguments before the high court, several conservative justices appeared to lean in favor of Coach Kennedy. 

The attorney for Bremerton High School had a difficult time responding to Justice Gorsuch's question about whether a coach doing the sign of the cross was government speech that the district could restrict. Justice Thomas and others pressed the question of whether the district would censor a person kneeling for non-religious reasons, according to First Liberty Institute which is representing Kennedy. 

The Supreme Court's order in the case will be issued before the court's 2022 summer recess, which will take place in late June or early July. 

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