A Win for Religious Freedom in Massachusetts

by Alexandra DeSanctis

In early October, I reported on a Massachusetts law that required churches to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice and sought to punish pastors for using incorrect pronouns when referring to such individuals. More from that earlier post:

[The law], which forbids public places from having sex-segregated restrooms, could be wielded against pastors who refer to an individual using pronouns consistent with that person’s biological sex rather than the pronouns with which the individual identifies. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), tasked with enforcing the state law, released its Gender Identity Guidance last month, asserting that “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.”

Now, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is declaring victory in its lawsuit against Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey, which the group filed in order to obtain an exemption for parishes and pastors. ADF has withdrawn its suit in light of the fact that Healey’s office has clarified the formerly expansive sections of the law, removing “houses of worship” from the list of places of public accommodation included in the law’s jurisdiction. The updated law applies only to religious organizations if their facilities are used for a public and secular function, rather than simply an event open to the public.

Though the churches involved in the suit do not agree with all of the language of MCAD’s rules, they are satisfied with this change, as it will permit them to carry out their religious work in line with their principles and beliefs. This is undoubtedly a victory for religious freedom, as well as for the principle that the government should not have the authority to determine what does and does not constitute religious expression.

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