Testimony in Support of Religious Exemption Protections

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Chair Latz and Members of the Committee,

I’m Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota.

We are here because the Legislature removed the religious exemption for gender identity nondiscrimination last year, an exemption that made the enactment of the Human Rights Act’s ban on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination possible in 1993, and which has served the state well since. 

We are seeking to have it restored. 

To be clear, the Catholic Church does not support unjust discrimination against any person in the basic needs of life. But this is not what tonight’s discussion is about. We are here because legislators have taken away the ability for religious institutions and their schools to, among other things, make decisions about staffing and curriculum that align with the values and beliefs of their religion.

The request has generated unprecedented collaboration in Minnesota’s faith community, including, the Catholic Church, three of the four largest denominations of Lutherans, the Islamic Center of Minnesota, Agudath Israel, the Latter Days Saints community, Transform Minnesota (an evangelical ministry association), the Association of Christian Schools International, and some others from who you will hear this evening. 

It may surprise some that religions that disagree on many important things can find common ground built on firm principle.  But we are here standing for the fundamental American values of diversity of thought and the free exercise of religion as embodied in the First Amendment and the state Constitution.  What we are opposing is a kind of dogmatic secularism; really, a competing religion built around protecting autonomy, but which in truth demands compliance from all.

In fact, unlike the religions that invite people to freely believe in some things that are unseen, what the new state gender identity mandate is asking of us is to deny the plain facts of what we can see with our own eyes—or face legal penalties for refusing to do so.  But biology isn’t bigotry, and it should not be characterized as such. 

To conclude, you may choose not to respect the values of an estimated one and a half million Minnesotans represented by these institutions, not to mention many others, who hold to viewpoints about sexual identity that were common and taken for granted even ten years ago.  You may force us to defend ourselves in court. 

But make no mistake, the removal of the exemption is a tremendous act of hostility to people of faith that makes the mantra of One Minnesota appear less about unity amid diversity where all are welcome, and instead one of uniformity and conformity.  Thank you for your consideration.

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