Reverend Jon C. Heddleston, pastor of Reynolds Memorial Baptist Church in Sperryville, is one of two plaintiffs to file suit against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in Rappahannock County Circuit Court, according to a press release.
The suit claims that the Governor’s Executive Order 72, which requires churches to adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation practices in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, “reflects the Governor’s bias and belief that employers and educational leaders are to be trusted and church leaders are not.”
Heddleston, who has been a high school teacher and pastor for more than two decades, is quoted in the press release as saying: “The Constitution clearly addresses the harms inherent in thwarting men and women from any of these roles for the betterment of our citizenry. Freedom of the press, of religious and creative expression are all foundational to the vocations in which I have been blessed to participate. Restrictions regarding the free assembly of citizens engaged in such useful endeavors is unacceptable in light of our American laws and heritage.”
Jeff Light, a pastor at Novum Baptist Church in Reva and a team leader for a mobile food pantry, joined Heddleston in the suit. “The Governor has determined our church to be a ‘non-essential’ function of society, but he considers the food distribution that I do to be ‘essential’ and thus exempt from the requirements of the Order,” Light says.
“That low view of religion and our Constitutional liberties cannot be allowed to stand. We must do all we can to ensure the free exercise of our faith; nothing must ever be allowed to stifle or inder that which God has called to action.”
The plaintiffs are represented in the suit by Culpeper-based attorney J. Michael Sharman, who has also recently represented Sperryville pastor Brian Hermsmeier in a similar suit.
Heddleston was editor of the Rappahannock News in the 1980s.