Code of Virginia

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Code of Virginia
Title 57. Religious and Charitable Matters; Cemeteries
Subtitle .
Chapter 1. Religious Freedom

Chapter 1. Religious Freedom.

§ 57-1. Act for religious freedom recited.

The General Assembly, on January 16, 1786, passed an act in the following words:

"Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and 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 endeavoring to impose them on others, have 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, and 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 labors, 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 religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though, indeed, those 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 rules 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 the 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 to be 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 right."

Code 1919, § 34; 1985, c. 73.

§ 57-2. Rights asserted therein reaffirmed.

The General Assembly does hereby declare again that the rights asserted in § 57-1 are the natural and unalienable rights of mankind and this declaration is the policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Code 1919, § 35; 2016, c. 284.

§ 57-2.01. Religious Freedom Week and Day.

On the 200th Anniversary of the enactment of the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom, the 1986 Virginia General Assembly commends their eighteenth century predecessors for their wisdom and foresight and declares that from this date forth, the second full week of every January is designated as Religious Freedom Week in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In addition, the date of the passage of the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom merits special commemoration and celebration in the Commonwealth and nation. For this purpose, the sixteenth day of January of each year shall be designated "Religious Freedom Day."

1986, c. 352; 1997, c. 388.

§ 57-2.02. Religious freedom preserved; definitions; applicability; construction; remedies.

A. As used in this section:

"Demonstrates" means meets the burdens of going forward with the evidence and of persuasion under the standard of clear and convincing evidence.

"Exercise of religion" means the exercise of religion under Article I, Section 16 of the Constitution of Virginia, the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom (§ 57-1 et seq.), and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

"Government entity" means any branch, department, agency, or instrumentality of state government, or any official or other person acting under color of state law, or any political subdivision of the Commonwealth and does not include the Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and any facility of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services that treats civilly committed sexually violent predators, or any local, regional or federal correctional facility.

"Prevails" means to obtain "prevailing party" status as defined by courts construing the federal Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

"Substantially burden" means to inhibit or curtail religiously motivated practice.

B. No government entity shall substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability unless it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is (i) essential to further a compelling governmental interest and (ii) the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

C. Nothing in this section shall be construed to (i) authorize any government entity to burden any religious belief or (ii) affect, interpret or in any way address those portions of Article 1, Section 16 of the Constitution of Virginia, the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom (§ 57-1 et seq.), and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that prohibit laws respecting the establishment of religion. Granting government funds, benefits or exemptions, to the extent permissible under clause (ii) of this subsection, shall not constitute a violation of this section. As used in this subsection, "granting" used with respect to government funding, benefits, or exemptions shall not include the denial of government funding, benefits, or exemptions.

D. A person whose religious exercise has been burdened by government in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in any judicial or administrative proceeding and may obtain declaratory and injunctive relief from a circuit court, but shall not obtain monetary damages. A person who prevails in any proceeding to enforce this section against a government entity may recover his reasonable costs and attorney fees. The provisions of this subsection relating to attorney fees shall not apply to criminal prosecutions.

E. Nothing in this section shall prevent any governmental institution or facility from maintaining health, safety, security or discipline.

F. The decision of the circuit court to grant or deny declaratory and injunctive relief may be appealed to the Court of Appeals.

2007, c. 889; 2009, cc. 813, 840; 2021, Sp. Sess. I, c. 489.

§ 57-2.1. Advertising by hotels, etc., that persons find objectionable because of religion; exemptions.

A. As used in this section:

"Establishment" means any building or part thereof, including without being limited to public inns and hotels, any structure, enclosure, tract of land, and all improvements, appurtenances, and additions, bodies of water whether natural or artificial, and any other place of whatsoever nature to which the general public is or will be admitted, allowed or invited on payment of a fee, free of charge or otherwise.

"Person" means any individual, partnership, association, corporation, or organized group of persons whether incorporated or not.

B. No person, directly or indirectly, for himself or for another, shall publish in any newspaper or magazine, post on any sign, or broadcast by radio or television any commercial advertisement that any person not otherwise prohibited by law from using an establishment is not welcome, or is objectionable, or is not acceptable because of his religion. No person shall cause or solicit another person to violate this section.

C. This section shall not apply (i) to any establishment that is private or restricted to membership only; (ii) to any institution of higher education, school, educational institution, or camp, admission to which is based on religious belief or affiliation; or (iii) to any gathering, meeting, or assembly held under the auspices of any religious group or sect.

D. Any commercial advertisement as set forth herein is declared a public nuisance and shall be subject to abatement by injunctive relief; any aggrieved individual or group of individuals may proceed to obtain an injunction enjoining and restraining the person from continuing such commercial advertisement.

1954, c. 701.