Claim: church’s rule against breast-feeding in the pews violates Virginia law

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.” The law provides “no exemption for religious institutions.” 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 to feed her baby during a service.

Personally, I’m fine with public breast-feeding no longer being categorized, as it once was, as an automatically shocking thing. But why is government dictation of how a church may arrange its rules for worship no longer categorized as an automatically shocking thing? [Michael Alison Chandler and Laura Vozzella, Washington Post] [adapted and cross-posted at Cato at Liberty; and welcome Mosaic Magazine readers]


  • Did some one in the church ask her, as it says here? If so, are people no longer permitted to ask that people do things?


  • Did they threaten her with imprisonment or a fine or possibly death? If only that she would spend eternity in hell, then that’s prevented by the establishment clause from being a ground for government action… It’s not up to government to decide what is punishable by a deity.

  • Boblipton, the Washington Post story indicates that there was an initial request which she declined. She was subsequently told that nursing was prohibited.

  • Could a woman breastfeed her baby while sitting on a jury?
    Could a woman breastfeed her baby while giving testimony in a court trial?

  • There are many churches that have nursing rooms where mothers and their kids can either watch the service on a closed circuit feed, or the room is located just off the sanctuary so the mothers can watch the service.

    Whether this church has such an accommodation is unknown to me.

    However, from the Washington Post article caught my eye:

    Annie Peguero was trying to soothe her agitated 19-month-old baby in church on Sunday….

    So the child was agitated and the mother tried to soothe the child when she was asked to move to a different area.

    Gee, how horrible that a woman whose child was disrupting a service (through no fault of her own) was asked to take the child elsewhere to calm her down.

    While the woman might say she was asked to leave because she was breastfeeding, the church will probably rightfully say the child was causing a disturbance and the mother was asked to deal with it.

    If the mother is concerned with other worshipers and wants to treat people as she wanted to be treated (ie without causing a commotion) she should have left the sanctuary. Instead, she created the problem and now is claiming to be a victim.

  • Sorry…. NBC in Washington says:

    Annie Peguero, of Dumfries, says in a Facebook Live video that she was questioned twice as she breastfed Sunday in Summit Church in Springfield: first as she sat near the church’s “baby room” without a nursing cover over her breast and a second time as she nursed openly in the sanctuary during the sermon.

    So the church does have an area for women so that the agitated child does not distract others.

    • Not only does the church have a “baby room”, she was physically IN that room, and took the baby OUT and then started breastfeeding, according to her own video (attached to the Post article.) (She manages to go about 2 whole minutes before deciding she has to breastfeed on that video, too.)

      “The law provides ‘no exemption for religious institutions'”? Given the First Amendment right to exercise religion, I don’t think it has to. Virginia law cannot override the Constitution.

      • “Given the First Amendment right to exercise religion, I don’t think it has to.”

        SCOTUS decided decades ago that the free exercise clause of 1A does not entitle anyone to exemptions from generally applicable laws. This is why Congress passed the RFRA.

  • A balancing act for which the host institution should be given some deference. Also some balancing of safety and rights.

    What constitutes participation in a religious service is to be determined by the private religious organization. If a church finds that there are times and places for which some activities seem inappropriate, how can a government showing now religious favor decide which elements of a service should or should not endorse nursing, or any other secular activity.

    Presumably even the state has some prohibitions to this perceived natural and inviolable right: Nursing in a moving car forbidden by seat belt and car seat necessity, barring some improbable contortions.

  • Ann Althouse writes on her blog:

    “the last time I looked, Virginia has a Religious Freedom Preservation Act, § 57-2.02:

    “‘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.'”

  • This topic fascinates me because in my life I have been in hundreds of churches for services as part of a CCM band.

    In my opinion, outside of mic feedback, there is very little more distracting than a child crying in the middle of a service.

    Mr. Olson’s post and Ann Althouse’s cites not withstanding, if the law says the woman can breast feed in an area where she can legally be, can she legally be in an area where the people who own the property have asked her to leave because she is creating a disturbance from the child crying? (And not the breastfeeding?)