March 24, 2017

December 14, 2016

Massachusetts Backs Off Churches on Transgender Law

The state of Massachusetts, having been duly notified that its transgender law trampled upon the First Amendment, has apparently pulled an Emily Litella, according to the Daily Caller:

Four churches dropped their lawsuit against Massachusetts after the state clarified its transgender law would only apply to them in limited cases.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit in October alleging the state’s anti-discrimination law for transgenders would infringe on churches’ religious freedoms, reports Mass Live.

Now, the group announced Monday it dropped the lawsuit against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination after receiving a letter from the AG’s office.

The attorney general’s office sent a letter to the ADF last month explaining that it removed “house of worship” as an example of a public place. Healey noted, though, if a church hosts a “public, secular function,” then it will be considered a public place.

“We accomplished what we set out to do, to ensure pastors and churches across the state of Massachusetts were free to teach their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship in a way consistent with those beliefs,” Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel with the ADF, said.

Personally, I think that the phrase “public, secular event” still muddies the waters. MassLive has this in its report of the agreement:

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination also updated its guidelines. MCAD removed the sentence in its guidelines that referred to a church being a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event like a spaghetti supper. It replaced that by writing that the law applies to a religious organization if it engages in or its facilities are used for a public, secular function. The law does not apply to an organization in any way that would abridge its First Amendment rights, as defined by the Donaldson case.

Admittedly, I’m not a lawyer, but out here in the hinterland where actual English is spoken, I can see nothing justifying a distinction in that description between saying that a church is not a place of “public accommodation” when it hosts a “secular event” like a spaghetti supper that’s open to the public, but it is when it is used for an undefined “public, secular function.” Maybe a lawyer can parse that, but I’m betting he or she would have to be named “Clinton.”

If the ADF is satisfied, then I’m OK. But it’s still worth keeping an eye on the lizard people who populate the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to make sure they keep their hands and their warrants where they belong.

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[1] Posted by Jackie on 12-14-2016 at 10:59 AM · [top]

A “Public secular function” might include a soup kitchen for the homeless. Restroom facilities would have to be open to transgender folks who might choose which one to enter depending on how they felt that day, and if chased out by any well meaning church folk, then that church would be held accountable under the law.

[2] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 12-15-2016 at 02:16 PM · [top]

Ugp, If a church is running a meals program, they’re probably doing it on a regular basis, with staff (volunteers) that work every week or on a regularly rotating basis, so understanding the law is an issue of getting the staffers to understand that during the meal-time, the bathrooms are unisex.

The real problem is for churches that run a once-a-year event such as their fair, which is also open to the public, and draws a much more diverse crowd. I’m not sure if the law applies to that event or not. This could be a real problem for churches that depend on their annual Harvest or Christmas Fair as their principal fund-raiser.

[3] Posted by The Little Myrmidon on 12-16-2016 at 03:17 PM · [top]

In that case, The Little Myrmidon, they would just need to make sure that the public event is sufficiently “religious” in nature so as not to qualify as secular.

[4] Posted by ltwin on 12-21-2016 at 12:28 AM · [top]

And by that I mean even though it is a public harvest fair you could still incorporate religious themes into it to make it clear that it is not a secular event.

[5] Posted by ltwin on 12-21-2016 at 12:29 AM · [top]

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