Relaymedia

Churches’ Lawsuit Prompts Massachusetts to Revise ‘Anti-Discrimination’ Law

Here’s a major victory for religious freedom: In response to a lawsuit filed by four churches, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination revised the language of an “anti-discrimination” law that could have put pastors in jail for preaching about the biblical definition of gender.
A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine in Irvine, California September 30, 2014.
Reuters/ Lucy Nicholson

Here’s a major victory for religious freedom: In response to a lawsuit filed by four churches, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination revised the language of an “anti-discrimination” law that could have put pastors in jail for preaching about the biblical definition of gender.

The four churches argued in the lawsuit that the regulations released by the commission violated their First Amendment Rights.

The chief of the Civil Rights Division, Genevieve Nadeau, said the lawsuit brought the issue to their attention and allowed them to review the law.

“Your lawsuit caused us to focus on these issues and to make this revision to our website. Thank you for bringing the issue to our attention,” Nadeau wrote in a letter dated Nov. 7.

In September, the commission released gender identity regulations saying places of public accommodation should not discriminate against a person’s gender identity, including in the use of restrooms, and should conform to the proper usage of gender identity pronouns.

Houses of worship were specifically mentioned among those included in the regulation’s definition of places of public accommodation. This means churches holding events that are open to the public are required to comply with the law.

“Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public,” the regulation said.

The regulation also stated that “it is a violation of the law for any individual to aid or incite another in making a distinction, discriminating against or restricting an individual from a place of public accommodation on the basis of gender identity.”

Thus, pastors would be forced to stop preaching about gender as defined by the Bible or else face the possibility of going to jail.

Last month, four Massachusetts churches—Horizon Christian Fellowship in Fitchburg, Abundant Life Church in Swansea, House of Destiny Ministries in Southbridge, and Faith Christian Fellowship in Haverhill—filed a lawsuit asking to be exempted from the said “anti-discrimination” regulations.

"The Churches' policies and practices regarding access to their changing rooms and restrooms flow logically and directly from their religious beliefs concerning God's design for biological sex," the lawsuit said.

Because of the complaint raised by the four churches, the regulation has been changed to say the “law does not apply to a religious organization if subjecting the organization to the law would violate the organization’s First Amendment rights,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the four churches.

The term “houses of worship” was also removed from among the recognized places of public accommodation.

Now that the revisions would effectively exempt churches from the anti-discrimination law, the four churches are voluntarily dismissing the lawsuit.

“No church should fear government punishment simply for serving its community consistently with its faith. Massachusetts officials made the right decision to respect these churches’ freedom of religion and speech,” ADF legal counsel Christiana Holcomb said. “We will continue to monitor the situation in Massachusetts to make sure those freedoms continue to be respected.”

Tags : gender identity, Massachusetts anti-discrimination law, Alliance Defending Freedom, Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Maura Healey, Massachusetts transgender bathroom bill, Massachusetts places of public accommodation, Massachusetts houses of worship