Churches 'By and Large' Have Religious Freedom on LGBT Issues, Mass. Commission Says

Churches are "by and large" exempted from the LGBT public accommodation mandates of a new Massachusetts law, according to a state government commission.

In July, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law Senate Bill 2407, which among other things allows transgender men to use women's restrooms in places of public accommodation and requires employers to use the preferred pronouns of their employees.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination emailed The Christian Post some comments about the new law, which has garnered concern from some that it violates the religious liberty of churches who hold events open to the general public.

"The MCAD respects and supports freedom of speech and freedom of expression. By and large churches are exempt from being held to the anti-discrimination laws of the Commonwealth," stated the Commission to CP.

"There could be instances where a place of worship is used for purely secular purposes that are open to the general public that may be seen as a place of public accommodation."

Earlier this month MCAD released a paper providing guidance for the Senate Bill 2407, which was signed into law in July and is also known as An Act Relative to Gender Identity.

"The legislature, in passing An Act Relative to Gender Identity, required the MCAD to 'make recommendations to effectuate the purposes of this act, including when and how gender identity, as defined in clause 59 of section 7 of chapter 4 of the General laws, may be evidenced'," explained the Commission.

"The Guidance is a document created to give guidance and information to the public regarding how the MCAD views the current laws on gender identity in employment, housing, credit and places of public accommodation."

Some have expressed concern over the consequences of the new law, which expands previous antidiscrimination to include areas like restroom and locker room access.

A repeal campaign, known as "Keep MA Safe", emerged after the law was passed. Organizers hope to put the law to a ballot referendum in November of 2018.

"Aside from the ability of individuals to abuse these laws and invade intimate public spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, etc., this law would create an enormous public health risk by enabling sexual predators," argued the campaign's site.

"If men can enter women's restrooms, what prevents a child predator from legally awaiting his prey in places where little girls or boys are most vulnerable? Those who support this legislation are not fully recognizing the ramifications of such poor public policy."

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor specializing in freedom of speech, warned that the Massachusetts law could be used to punish a church for using the "wrong pronouns" (such as male pronouns for a man who identifies as a woman) while holding a public event. Most church activies are public events, and, Volokh points out, the law applies to congregants, not just church employees and volunteers.

Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a socially conservative group involved in the referendum campaign, told CP in an interview earlier this week about why the initiative, if successful, cannot get on the ballot until November 2018.

"You have a ninety-day window to collect these signatures once the bill is passed into law. Because of when it is passed and when the ninety-day window closes and when the 2016 elections are, per law it has to be on the 2018 ballot," noted Beckwith.

"But that will give us two years to make our case to the people of Massachusetts, to educate them on the dangers of the law and to encourage to vote to repeal it if we can get it on the ballot."