Massachusetts Law Possibly Jailing Pastors For Not Using Approved Language Takes Effect

By Dustin Siggins Published on October 3, 2016

Pastors who use the wrong pronoun can be jailed in Massachusetts.

On Saturday, a law banning sex-segregated bathrooms and other practices for places of “public accommodation” took effect. Specifically meant to promote gender ideology, the law was passed by the state’s Democratic state legislative majority and signed by Republican governor Charles Baker.

The law mostly applies to businesses that serve the general public. However, according to guidance from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, churches that hold “secular” events like “a spaghetti dinner…open to the general public” are under the statute during such events. The Commission is the state agency tasked with creating policies to enforce the law.

As The Stream previously reported, this could lead to pastors in jail. From the Commission’s document: “Violation of the law shall be punished by a fine of not more than twenty-five hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both…. In addition, the violator shall be liable to the aggrieved person for damages.”

Republican state Rep. Jim Lyons told Conservative Review that the bill “was never about [preventing] discrimination.”

“[I]t has always been about forcing a radical social agenda on the people of Massachusetts. … Our religious freedoms are now being trampled on by the radicals in Massachusetts,” Lyons said. “The bathroom bill is all about changing society,” and it “is eliminating our rights to privacy, our rights to protect our children and our rights to religious liberty.”

Washington Post legal analyst Eugene Volokh said the law could end up with pastors being punished if even members of the congregation didn’t use the government-approved language. A church that appears to tolerate language critical of transgender people can be accused of creating a “hostile environment,” and therefore “harassment.” 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” (emphasis added). But that’s not just encouragement; it simply reflects hostile work environment harassment law, which has long required employers to restrict derogatory speech by clients, to prevent “hostile environments.” See 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11. The same logic applies for places of public accommodation, which Massachusetts says can include churches.

A Commission spokesperson told Fox News’ Todd Starnes that the government could decide to not press charges against churches.

“There are circumstances where places of worship hold activities at their facilities or in their buildings that are purely secular events,” she said. Among the activities that the state considers secular are soup kitchens, day care, housing, and polling places. “In those circumstances, places of worship could be seen as open to the public,” Ms. George told me. “The operative word is ‘could.’”

The Massachusetts Family Institute is pushing to repeal the law by voter ballot in November. A spokesperson told The Stream “We’re prayerfully optimistic” that the group has the necessary 32,375 signatures to get it onto the ballot.

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