Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Churches Sue To Enjoin Massachusetts Ban on Gender Identity Discrimination

Four churches have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that recent changes to Massachusetts' public accommodation anti-discrimination law violate the churches' free exercise and free speech rights. As previously reported,  the law now bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and requires public accommodations to allow restroom use consistent with a person's gender identity. Last month, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination released a Gender Identity Guidance setting out the Commission's interpretation of the new law and suggesting that in some situations, the anti-discrimination ban can apply to churches. The complaint (full text) in Horizon Christian Fellowship v. Williamson, (D MA, filed 10/11/2016), contends that all church activities, even ones not overtly religious, are expressions of the churches' religious mission.  The complaint focuses on provisions in the law that bar public accommodations from discriminating and from inciting others to discriminate.  It alleges:
22. The Churches desire to preach and post on their websites sermons addressing God’s design for human sexuality and the Churches’ beliefs about “gender identity,” but reasonably fear that if they were to do so they would violate the Act’s prohibitions.
23. The Act’s prohibitions would also apply to a church bulletin and website that included an explanation that the women’s restrooms are reserved for biological females, while the men’s restrooms are reserved for biological males.
Plaintiffs also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and a memorandum in support of the motion (full text). ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.