by Diane Robertson
Churches in Massachusetts this Thanksgiving face a conundrum for the first time: should they open their buildings up to the public to serve Thanksgiving dinner and risk up to $50,000 in fines or should they remain closed to the public to keep their status as a church safe?
This past summer the Massachusetts legislature added gender identity to the state public accommodation laws. Most would expect this to exclude private property and entities such as churches. Not this time. The state Attorney General and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) specifically said that the law includes churches who open their facilities up to the public. Guidelines released by MCAD state that, “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.”
This does not just mean that a church that hosts a public meal will be required by law to open its bathrooms and changing areas to all genders, but it also means that churches can face penalties for messages that might be considered discriminatory. Any church that holds traditional biblical views about gender and sexuality could face penalties for teaching those beliefs in its own buildings if those facilities serve the public.
Up until now, Massachusetts churches could teach their religion and serve the community without fear. This is religious freedom. The state has taken that away. Churches must either keep their religion and their services private, or keep their views secret in order to serve the needy in their community.
This law is being reviewed by a Massachusetts court. Hopefully, for the good of the people in Massachusetts, the judge will conclude that churches can teach their beliefs without government punishment. Hopefully churches will be allowed to continue to serve the needy while preaching their religion.