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For a second time in just weeks, a state finds itself on defense in a legal action triggered by its attempt to dictate what ministers and others say inside their churches.

In America. Home of the First Amendment’s protection for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The newest case was filed against Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination commissioners Jamie R. Williamson, Sunila T. George and Charlotte G. Richie and Attorney General Maura Healey.

It’s over a a new “gender identity” definition adopted in Massachusetts. The measure makes “gender identity” a special class, with more protections than ordinary citizens. Under the provision, the attorney general has claimed “houses of worship” are places of “public accommodation” and members therefore cannot even express ideas concerning “religious expression regarding biological sex and gender identity.”

The case was launched by the Alliance Defending Freedom after Healey and the state commission both decided to interpret the law “to force churches to open church changing rooms, shower facilities, restrooms, and other intimate areas [to people] based on their perceived gender identity, and not their biological sex, in violation of the churches’ religious beliefs.”

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Four churches are plaintiffs: Horizon Christian Fellowship, Swansea Abundant Life Assembly of God, House of Destiny Ministries and Faith Christian Fellowship of Havarhill. Several individuals also are named: George Small, David Aucoin, Esteban Carrasco and Marlene Yeo.

“The government shouldn’t encroach on the internal, religious practices of a church,” said ADF Senior Counsel Steve O’Ban. “Neither the commission nor the attorney general has the constitutional authority to dictate how any church uses its facility or what public statements a church can make concerning a deeply held religious belief, such as on human sexuality.”

The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Eastern Division.

WND reported when the state issued its orders to churches.

“Under [the law] places of public accommodation may not discriminate against, or restrict a person from services because of that person’s gender identity. For example, a hotel or motel may not refuse to book a room for a person because of the person’s gender identity,” the state threatened.

It continued, “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 demands include having church officials, and even members, use whatever pronouns a person would demand, irrespective of their actual gender.

At the Volokh Conspiracy legal blog, Eugene Volokh pointed out that “churches hold events ‘open to the general public’ all the time – it’s often how they seek new converts.”

“And even church ‘secular events,’ which I take it means events that don’t involve overt worship, are generally viewed by the church as part of its ministry, and certainly as a means of the church modeling what it believes to be religiously sound behavior.”

Volokh continued: “My guess is that most churches would not turn someone away from a generally open spaghetti supper. … But some religious leaders, as well as the church employees and volunteers, may refuse to use pronouns that they believe are inconsistent with God’s plan as revealed by anatomy.”

“Under Massachusetts law, refusing to use a transgender person’s preferred pronoun would be punishable discrimination. (At least this is true of ‘he’ or ‘she’ – I saw nothing in the document about ‘ze’ and other newly made-up pronouns.) The Massachusetts document … makes that clear in the employment context, and it also makes clear that the antidiscrimination law rules apply to places of public accommodations (including churches, in ‘secular events’ ‘open to the public’) just as much as to employment.”

Volokh warned: “Indeed, a church might be liable even for statements by its congregants (and not just its volunteers, who are acting as agents) that are critical of transgender people. Tolerating such remarks is generally seen as allowing a ‘hostile environment,’ and therefore ‘harassment.’ Indeed, the statement … specifically encourages people to ‘prohibit derogatory comments or jokes about transgender persons from employees, clients, vendors and any others, and promptly investigate and discipline persons who engage in discriminatory conduct’.”

The case asks for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunction restraining the state from violating the rights of the churches and their ministers and members.

It argues the state is violating the First Amendment in numerous ways and points out “the government has no compelling interests – unrelated to the suppression of ideas – that is served by infringing the churches’ and pastors’ expressive associational rights, nor can any such interest be achieved by the least restrictive means available.”

“The defendants have violated the churches’ and pastors’ rights under the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses.”

And it warns bluntly, “MCAD’s interepretation that the act will be applied to churches on a ‘case-by-case-basis’ invests in itself the power to decide which religious beliefs, practices, and doctrines of the churches regarding sex are acceptable, and which ones are not.”

WND previously reported on the same issue in Iowa.

There, a church sued the state in federal court, demanding that officials withdraw their threats of prosecution because of the content of the church’s sermons, specifically what is said about homosexuality, same-sex “marriage,” transgenderism and other related topics.

That case erupted when the state’s Civil Rights Commission first claimed the authority to control the content of sermons and then to define what’s religious.

At issue is the state’s nondiscrimination requirements that specify any “public accommodation” can be ordered not to say anything that might make a homosexual or a transgender feel “unwelcome,” such as even reading from the Bible a condemnation of such behavior.

Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who are representing the church, have filed a reply in support of their motion for a preliminary injunction that would protect the church members’ constitutional rights while the case plays out.

Without that order, they contend the speech of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ and its pastors and members is being unconstitutionally limited.

Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for ADF, said the issue is about the basics of the Constitution.

“Churches should be free to communicate their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship according to their faith without fearing government punishment. It’s not good enough for government officials to say we should simply trust them to tell us what is religious and what isn’t. The law must be clear, and at present, the only thing that’s clear is that the law gives too much power to government bureaucrats who don’t even seem to understand the most basic constitutional principles,” she said.

See a video about the Iowa case:

In an age when Christianity is openly under attack, one book that champions the Bible as absolute truth is surprising even longtime Christians with amazing facts many people simply don’t know are included in the pages of Holy Scripture. Get your copy of “Shocked by the Bible: The Most Astonishing Facts You’ve Never Been Told” at the WND Superstore!

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