The Corner

Politics & Policy

Pronouns and Pastors: Massachusetts Law Threatens Churches over Transgenderism

A new law in Massachusetts, 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, 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.

Under this interpretation of the law — redefining a church as a place of public accommodation, at least when it is holding a “secular” event — nearly every church would be subject to this law. By their very nature, events at most places of worship are open to the public, because authentic evangelization necessitates openness to all.

Thus nearly any pastor could be guilty of “harassment” and of violating the Massachusetts law if he used an “incorrect” pronoun (i.e. a pronoun matching an individual’s biological sex) to refer to a transgender individual. According to the Washington Post’s Eugene Volokh, a church could even be held accountable for critical statements made by congregation members about transgender people, because such comments supposedly would create a hostile environment.

If the commission’s guidance is indeed leveraged against churches and pastors in order to enforce compliance with the use of certain pronouns, it will be tremendously dangerous to free society and religious exercise. First, legally requiring the use of one pronoun or another is undoubtedly a form of forced speech, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

Secondly, and perhaps more troublingly, this law normalizes government involvement in defining what does and does not constitute religious exercise. In the same way that the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services Department defined a Catholic hospital as one that only serves Catholic individuals, the interpretation of this law defines “religious events” as those that are only for official members of that community. As soon as a church opens its doors to the public — a practice intrinsic to the mission of nearly all churches — the government maintains that it is no longer hosting a religious event. Even aside from the flaws in this logic, it is wrong in principle for the government to define what does and does not constitute a religious or secular event.

Most Popular


Let Alfie Evans Go to Rome

Alfie Evans, 23 months old, is hospitalized with a rare neurodegenerative disorder. Against his parents’ wishes, his doctors at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool removed him from life support on Monday evening, maintaining that further treatment would be futile. Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital in Rome has ... Read More

Is Journalism School Worth It?

Clarence Darrow dropped out of law school after just a year, figuring that he would learn what he needed to know about legal practice faster if he were actually doing it than sitting in classrooms. (Today, that wouldn't be possible, thanks to licensing requirements.) The same thing is true in other fields -- ... Read More

Wednesday Links

Today is ANZAC Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli: Here's some history, a documentary, and a Lego re-enactment. How DNA Can Lead to Wrongful Convictions: Labs today can identify people with DNA from just a handful of cells, but a handful of cells can easily migrate. The 19th-century art of ... Read More

Microscopic Dots. Let’s Look at Them.

Stuart E. Eizenstat has written a big book on the Carter presidency. (Eizenstat was Carter’s chief domestic-policy adviser. He also had a substantial hand in foreign affairs.) I have reviewed the book for the forthcoming NR. Eizenstat tells the story of a meeting between President Carter and Andrei Gromyko, the ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Alfie and Haleigh and Charlie and Jahi

When British hospital officials tried to pull the plug on 23-month-old toddler Alfie Evans on Monday night in arrogant defiance of his parents' wishes, many Americans took to Twitter to count their blessings that they live in a country that would not allow such tyranny. "Stories like Alfie Evans make me ... Read More