by Paul Dupont
Last month, I wrote on a growing controversy in Massachusetts over new rules published by a state commission which seemed to suggest that churches would be punished if they did not conform to a recently passed transgender rights law:
As [the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination]’s guidance notes, all Massachusetts places of public accommodation will be prohibited, as of October 1, from “restrict[ing] a person from services because of that person’s gender identity”:
This means that a movie theater that has restrooms designated as “Men’s Restroom” and “Women’s Restroom” must allow its patrons to use the restroom which is consistent with their gender identity. A health club with locker rooms designated as male and female must grant all persons full enjoyment of the locker room consistent with their gender identity. A public swimming pool with changing rooms designated male and female must allow the public to use the changing room consistent with their gender identity.
And, most controversially, MCAD’s guidance asserts that “[e]ven 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.”
How will MCAD determine what constitutes a “secular event”? The guidance doesn’t say. But the fact that a Massachusetts governmental agency has appropriated to itself the power to determine what activities are and are not “religious” should give every American chills.
And that’s not all. As Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) points out, this same document also opens the possibility that churches might be penalized for simply teaching the Christian faith:
Because those laws also prohibit covered entities from making statements intended “to discriminate” or to “incite” others to do so, the commission and attorney general also intend to force churches and pastors to refrain from religious expression regarding sexuality that conflicts with the government’s views.
Fortunately, religious leaders aren’t backing down. With ADF’s help, four churches have filed suit against the Massachusetts government in order to defend their First Amendment rights. In a recent interview, Rev. Esteban Carrasco, Jr., the pastor of one of the churches involved in the suit, explained well the importance of the issues at stake:
“It’s all about the freedom to teach our beliefs and operate our houses of worship according to our faith, without being threatened by the government.”
Rev. Carrasco, who founded House of Destiny in April 2012 with his wife, said, “The AG and ‘unelected’ commission has come down with these interpretations, and these threatening messages, that we’re going to be charged with jail time, with fines, if we are not subject to what the government wants.”
“We will continue to love our community,” he said. “This is not discrimination. This is not hate. We’re a diverse church. We have 17 nations represented and we have people from every walk of life.”
But “if you take this away, if religious liberty is taken away, all civil liberties are going to collapse,” he said. “Religious liberty is the cornerstone of the First Amendment.”
In addition to the lawsuit, a group of Massachusetts citizens has also collected enough signatures to ensure the law itself will be placed on the ballot in 2018, at which time voters will have the opportunity to decide whether to repeal it or not. For Americans concerned about the future of religious liberty in this country, both efforts bear close watching.
Paul Dupont is the managing editor for ThePulse2016.com.