Churches filing lawsuit over transgender rights law

Plaintiffs claim new protections could violate religious beliefs of churches

BOSTON (WWLP) – Four Massachusetts churches have filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that the state’s new laws designed to protect transgender individuals against discrimination, are violating their right to express their religious views.

Earlier this year, Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill allowing transgender individuals to use restrooms and changing rooms that match their gender identity, rather than the sex listed on their birth certificate. Supporters of the law have called it a major step forward for reducing discrimination against a group that has been subject to marginalization and frequent harassment. Critics claim that it puts the privacy of women and children at risk, while others have voiced religious-based objections.

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The suit was filed Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Boston, with the churches being represented by lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national conservative Christian legal group.

They claim that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination considers a church as a place of public accommodation (and therefore subject to the anti-discrimination law) if they hold a “secular event,” such as a spaghetti supper. They also claim Attorney General Maura Healey generally views places of worship as places of public accommodation, and therefore subject to the state’s anti-discrimination law.

Christina Holcomb, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a news release sent to 22News that it doesn’t matter what kind of event is being held at a church, they should still be exempt.

“All events held at a church on its property have a religious purpose, and the government has no authority to violate the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of religion or speech,” Holcomb said. “Government officials have no business determining which church activities are religious and which ones aren’t.”

Further, they say that entities covered by the anti-discrimination law are prevented from saying anything intended to discriminate, or to incite others to do so. That, the churches’ lawyers claim, would prevent pastors from preaching religiously-based views on sexuality.

The churches filing the lawsuit are: Horizon Christian Fellowship in Fitchburg, Abundant Life Church in Swansea, House of Destiny Ministries in Southbridge, and Faith Christian Fellowship in Haverhill.