Monday, December 12, 2016

Massachusetts Modifies Reference To Churches As Public Accommodations; Suit Dismissed

Alliance Defending Freedom announced that today the churches and pastors who are plaintiffs in Horizon Christian Fellowship v. Williamson filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal in their lawsuit after the Attorney General's Office made a change in its website and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination made changes to language in a Guidance document on when a church can be considered a place of public accommodation subject to state's ban on discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Originally (see prior posting) the Gender Identity Guidance stated:
Even 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.
The revised Gender Identity Guidance reads:
The law does not apply to a religious organization if subjecting the organization to the law would violate the organization’s First Amendment rights. See Donaldson v. Farrakhan, 436 Mass. 94 (2002). However, a religious organization may be subject to the Commonwealth’s public accommodations law if it engages in or its facilities are used for a “public, secular function.” Id.
Originally a page on the Attorney General's website had made a categorical reference to "houses of worship" as an example of a "place of public accommodation."  That reference has been dropped.  A letter from the chief of the state's Civil Rights Division explained why the changes were made.