Scott and Jane Woodruff are Christians living in Loudoun County, Virginia. In 2015 they adopted a daughter with medical conditions that require the couple to hire babysitters to help with her care for several hours each week. A new Virginia law passed in July forbids them from advertising for Christians as babysitters for their child, contrary to their wishes, and the Woodruffs are fighting back.
With the help from the Parental Rights Foundation (PRF), the Woodruffs are suing Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (AG) in his official capacity, as the chief law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth, asking the court for a declaration that the new law substantially burdens their religious practice in violation of the Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act (VRFRA). They also want the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the AG and his agents and employees from enforcing the new law.
Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed an amendment to the state’s Human Rights Act that forbids taking religion into account when hiring a babysitter. It also prohibits parents from including this preference in their advertisements, according to allegations contained in the Woodruff’s Complaint filed in the Circuit Court of Richmond City, Virginia.
The Woodruffs, who prior to the law’s passage placed advertisements for a Christian babysitter on various caregiving websites, have a sincere religious belief that they need to find a like-minded babysitter who accepts their Christian faith.
The new law not only prohibits them from advertising for a Christian babysitter or even taking religion into account in their hiring decision, it also carries penalties for violations, including up to $50,000 for a first violation, and up to $100,000 for subsequent violations.
“Virginia has taken the phrase ‘nanny state’ to an absurd extreme,” said James R. Mason, president of the Parental Rights Foundation, in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “Virginia has no legitimate interest in telling parents who to hire to babysit their children (emphasis in original).”
Virginia is one of approximately 21 states that have a Religious Freedom Restoration Act similar to the federal law passed in 1993, which prohibits, in this case, any arm of Virginia government from substantially burdening an individual’s free exercise of religion without a compelling governmental justification, and then only using the least restrictive means necessary.
In addition to the Woodruff’s legal action, the recent election results in Virginia may offer hope that the egregious new law will be short-lived. Mark Herring lost his bid for re-election as Attorney General to Republican Jason S. Miyares, a Cuban American and the first Latino to be elected as the state’s top lawyer. The governor’s mansion as well as the House of Delegates has also flipped to Republican control.
Parents should not be second-guessed by the government when it comes to determining who will be spending time with their children in a caregiving position. We’ll keep you apprised of developments in this case as it progresses and in the Virginia Assembly as well.
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