Virginia’s new governor has signed a bill into law that strengthens the state’s protections for religious freedom by specifying that “religion” includes outward expressions of faith – and not merely inward belief.
The law, HB 1063, amends state anti-discrimination laws on public accommodations, employment and housing by adding a definition of religion.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, signed it into law Friday.
“‘Religion’ 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 text of the new law says.
The Virginia Department of Planning and Budget had said the bill “clarifies that ‘religion’ as it relates to freedom of expression includes any outward expression of religious faith in contexts where discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited.” Meanwhile, the department said it anticipates the new law will not have a state fiscal impact.
The new law specifically protects the use of symbols (such as crosses) but also certain grooming practices, including beards.
Alliance Defending Freedom applauded the new 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,” said ADF senior counsel Gregory S. Baylor. “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.”
The law was needed, Baylor said, because Virginia had forbidden “discrimination on the basis of religion” in multiple contexts without defining “the actual term ‘religion.’” That, Baylor said, could “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,” Baylor said.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/DCINK
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.