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Posted on Apr 5, 2016 |

Virginia Bishops: Veto Risks Destroying State’s Religious Freedoms

Virginia Bishops: Veto Risks Destroying State’s Religious Freedoms

Virginia's statute protecting religious freedom, written Thomas Jefferson, is the oldest religious freedom protection in the United States. Portrait from the Virginia Historical Society, no ownership claimed.

Virginia’s statute protecting religious freedom, written Thomas Jefferson, is the oldest religious freedom protection in the United States. Portrait from the Virginia Historical Society, no ownership claimed.

Saying they are “dismayed” by Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s veto of a state bill modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act Friday, the bishops of Virginia have issued a statement warning that the veto endangers the state’s long history of religious freedom and toleration, which date to a 1777 document written by Thomas Jefferson.

Adopted by Virginia in 1786, the document (see below) declares that religious freedom is one of the “natural rights of mankind,” that civil rights do not depend on “religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,” and that and that government may not require a citizen to “profess or renounce this or that religious opinion” through laws, fines, or other methods. 

According to the Catholic News Agency, politically liberal foundations and funds including the Ford Foundation, the Arcus Foundation and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund “have poured millions of dollars into legal groups, law school projects and activist groups to counter religious freedom protections” in states around the country. Most of these groups promote “same-sex marriage” and other rights claimed by advocates for acceptance of numerous sexual behaviors traditionally considered immoral as equivalent to marital intercourse.


Virginia Catholic Conference Statement on Governor’s Veto of Bill Defending Rights of Religious Organizations to Practice Faith

Today, on live radio, Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed SB 41, a bill that would have protected clergy and religious organizations from being punished by the state because they follow the deeply held teachings of their faith. In the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage, SB 41 merely sought to preserve fair access to state resources for clergy and religious organizations – including charities serving the poor and vulnerable throughout the state and schools educating tens of thousands of Virginia children – that act according to their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. Yet, the governor concludes the very opposite by claiming in a statement that the bill “would shield from civil liability those who actively discriminate against same-sex couples.”

Marriage is the first institution, written in natural law and existing before any government or religion, and is between one man and one woman. Recognizing and honoring this institution is not discrimination, but counting people’s faith against them most certainly is. The Virginia Catholic Conference is deeply dismayed by the governor’s action.

On WTOP radio, the governor alleged the bill would codify “fear, persecution and people being demonized.” Yet, the governor’s veto marginalizes religious believers who hold to the timeless truth about marriage. The governor also asserts the legislation is “bad for business” and “would damage Virginia’s reputation for commonsense, pro-business government.” Yet, the bill does not apply to businesses; it simply affirms the right of religious organizations to follow their religious beliefs. This veto risks the destruction of Virginia’s long tradition of upholding the religious freedom of faith communities which dates back to Thomas Jefferson.

The Conference is continuing to monitor other crucial legislation awaiting the governor’s action, and will comment further on today’s action and others at the appropriate time. The Virginia Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of Virginia’s Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.


Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom

An Act for establishing religious Freedom.

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;

That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural rights.

For more on religious freedom issues:

Click here for our Religious Liberty resources page. Click here to see all our previous stories and guest posts on religious liberty issues.

Click here for the USCCB’s resource page on the Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty.

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