Victory for religious freedom in MA!

Yesterday, we celebrated a real win for religious freedom.  Both MA Attorney General Maura Healey and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) voluntarily reversed their new transgender polices to acknowledge the constitutional right of churches to teach and operate consistently with their faith.  As many of you know, in September of this year, the unelected MCAD and an activist Attorney General threatened an unprecedented intrusion into the constitutionally protected rights of churches and pastors.  These state bureaucrats made national headlines by declaring that they had the power not only to impose transgender bathroom and locker room polices on churches, but also to decide which church activities were “secular” enough to take away their first amendment protections.  So much for the so-called “separation of church and state!”

In response, four MA churches filed suit in federal court, with the help of our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), to protect their right to teach their beliefs and operate their churches according to their faith – without being threatened by the government.  The good news is that both MCAD and the AG backed down in response to the threat of legal action, so we were able to dismiss the case.  I was surprised that someone as aggressive and condescending on this issue as the AG (AKA Maura “Hold-it” Healey) would voluntarily admit she was wrong, but it confirms that when you stand up to a bully, they often back off.

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Yesterday, we held a legal briefing for churches to explain this victory, and MA pastors and ministry leaders from across the Commonwealth gathered in Boston to hear the good news.  We were graciously hosted by Congregation Lion of Judah, which served a fabulous pasta lunch.  That culinary choice was intentional, because the now withdrawn policy from MCAD originally declared (without any legal justification) that something as simple as holding a “spaghetti supper” could make a church lose its protections under the first amendment and have to open its women’s bathrooms and changing rooms to gender-confused men.

For those of you who couldn’t attend yesterday, here are the takeaways for churches and ministry leaders:

  • Sermons, worship, Sunday school, Bible studies are all clearly protected by First Amendment.
  • Community outreach activities are also protected, such as:
    • Concerts & movies – Special meals open to the community (e.g. Thanksgiving meals to homeless, men’s breakfasts, spaghetti suppers) – Alcohol & chemical addiction recovery ministries
    • Radio ministries
    • Holiday events: Thanksgiving, Halloween, July 4th, Christmas
    • Marriage seminars
    • Community weddings/funerals
    • Food pantries
    • Back to school nights w/ games, food, schools supplies for kids
    • Life skills workshops (e.g. anger management, conflict resolution)
  • Note: Anytime you allow a third party to use the facility, it is critical to have a facility use policy detailing the religious nature of the facility and how the church allows certain approved community members to use the facility as a means of furthering the church’s religious purposes and expression.  [If you’re looking for sample facility use policy language, you can find it on page 28 of our “Protecting Your Ministry” guidebook.

The bottom line is any religiously-affiliated activity or event that reflects religious expression is protected activity and exempt from the transgender public accommodations law.  That being said, we can’t predict how MCAD or the AG will choose to interpret this law in the future, but rest assured ADF and MFI stand ready to go back to court at a moment’s notice if necessary.  Please do not hesitate to reach contact us with questions.

 

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