May 3, 2017 2:03PM

Can Virginia Require a Church To Permit Breast‐​Feeding in the Pews?

In 2015, following the lead of many other states, Virginia passed a “law that says women have a right to breast‐​feed anywhere they have a legal right to be,” as the Washington Post reports. The law provides “no exemption for religious institutions,” as well as no quarter, it would seem, for owners’ ordinary rights to set terms and conditions when they invite visits from the general public. Now a mother and her attorney say Summit Church in Springfield, in the D.C. suburbs, had no right to ask her to use a private room after she began feeding her baby without a cover during a sermon.

Should Annie Peguero, of Dumfries, Va., press a claim in court, she might have to contend with Virginia’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which provides in relevant part (h/​t Ann Althouse): “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.” But since not all states have a version of RFRA—and particularly since, if the Post’s readers are typical, a large sector of polite opinion is taking Ms. Peguero’s side and appears to see nothing wrong with applying such laws to churches in Summit’s position—it seems likely that this will not the last such claim. 

Personally, I’m fine with public breast‐​feeding no longer being classed as an automatically shocking thing. But why is government dictation of how a church may arrange its worship services no longer classed as an automatically shocking thing?

[cross‐​posted and adapted from Overlawyered]