Faith Under Fire: The Battle for Religious Freedom in Minnesota

At a House Committee meeting on Thursday, February 29, it became clear that some Minnesota legislators not only do not respect religious beliefs, they will no longer tolerate them.

The House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee was considering amendments to the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”). The MHRA has been in place since the late 1960s and serves the purpose of ensuring that all Minnesotans are treated as equals, and that no one is discriminated against based on personal traits including race, disability, religion, sex, and others.

In 1993, two major changes were adopted to the MHRA: (1) sexual orientation was added as a protected status, and (2) an exemption for religious organizations was added to allow them to act in accordance with their religious beliefs regarding sexual orientation. We did not oppose this change because it was meant to be a shield against discrimination for all persons with regard to public accommodations and the basic necessities of life, such as housing and employment. The change also guaranteed religious freedom and allowed Catholics and all other faith communities to live out our beliefs, choose our own clergy and teachers, and teach our values to our children.

Last year, the Legislature passed an amendment to the MHRA which added “gender identity” as a protected status but did not include a religious exemption. This change prohibits religious organizations, churches, and schools from acting on religious beliefs regarding human sexuality. In practice, this could mean, among other things, that the MHRA requires a church to employ a transgender person as its religious education director, or that a Catholic school would be prohibited from teaching that God created us male and female and not “nonbinary.”

This is a drastic shift in the MHRA and a serious infringement on religious liberties in Minnesota.

On Thursday, February 29, an amendment to the MHRA was proposed by Rep. Harry Niska (R-Ramsey) which would restore religious protection from claims of discrimination based on gender identity. Leaders from the Catholic Church, Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, the Islamic Center of Minnesota, and the Association of Christian Schools International testified in person in support of this amendment, testifying to their organizations’ deeply held religious beliefs regarding human sexuality be respected, and the underscoring the crucial importance of governmental noninterference with those beliefs.

It was hoped that not including a religious exemption to the new MHRA gender identity language was a simple oversight rather than an intentional infringement on religious liberties. Unfortunately, legislators made clear that this was no oversight and were clear that the intent was to persecute some faith communities because of their supposedly bigoted beliefs.

Representatives opposed to the religious restoration amendment commented that it was disturbing, appalling, and infuriating, and that the amendment is just an excuse for hatred. Of course, this is not the case.

These words are troubling on many fronts, especially when considered alongside the so-called “Equal Rights Amendment” (ERA) (S.F. 37) to the Minnesota Constitution.

The ERA would force women’s rights and religious freedom to take a backseat to harmful gender ideology. Like the new MHRA language, the ERA includes “gender identity or expression” as a protected status but excludes protection for “religion” or “creed.”

So, what does the ERA and the changes to the MHRA mean for people of faith in Minnesota?

The ERA is a blank check to courts to impose new forms of discrimination rules. For example, religious organizations may be prohibited from acting on their religious beliefs regarding human sexuality. They could be required to cover gender “transition” procedures in their employees’ health plans, to hire individuals who are not living in accordance with the teachings of that faith, to affirm a student’s decision to transition, or be prohibited from teaching their religious beliefs. We can also expect to see more men allowed in women’s shelters, prisons, sports, and bathrooms.

Most troublingly, parents will likely lose their ability to raise their child and protect them from harmful gender ideology. Children could be taken from their homes to be gender-transitioned according to court order when their parents refuse. This chilling outcome should get everyone off their couch and into the public square opposing the ERA and similar legislation.

If the Legislature does not adjust course, the potential for persecution of fundamental freedoms will be cemented in the state constitution and rules about who our churches employ and what our schools teach is decided by the government, not by our faith, with only the federal courts as a last defense. Visit today to learn more and to send a message to your legislators asking them to support the religious restoration amendment to the MHRA and to oppose the ERA.

Share this page to spread the word.
Share Tweet