Alliance Defending Freedom Drops Lawsuit Intended to Create Exemption from MA Nondiscrimination Law

Civil RightsGraphic from Freedom Massachusetts

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BOSTON—The anti-LGBT group Alliance Defending Freedom, ADF, representing four Mass. churches, has formally withdrawn a lawsuit they recently filed that sought to exempt the plaintiffs from complying with the state’s commonwealth’s nondiscrimination law, claiming that it violated their clients’ First Amendment rights.

Although challenging every aspect of the public accommodations law, updated this year to protect transgender people in public places and took effect October 1, the ADF lawsuit seemed to be motivated by the recent addition of gender identity as a protected class in the Massachusetts law.

“We are pleased to see ADF withdraw this baseless lawsuit,” said Kasey Suffredini, co-chair of the Freedom Massachusetts Education Fund. “We all value the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, and we are glad to see ADF acknowledge today that the Commonwealth’s long standing nondiscrimination laws, including the transgender protections update, does nothing to infringe on the freedom of congregations, clergy, and people of faith to practice their beliefs. Hundreds of faith leaders and communities spoke out in strong support of transgender protections this year, and we’ll continue to see that support increase as public understanding grows about what it means to be transgender.”

The lawsuit was Horizon Christian Fellowship et al. v. Jamie R. Williamson et al., Civil Action No. 1:16-cv-12034 (D. Mass., October 11, 2016). On the churches’ behalf, the ADF had claimed that houses of worship are wholly immune from coverage under public accommodations laws even when they engage in public, commercial, secular activities, arguing that churches have absolute control of the use of their facilities in every context.

Gary Buseck, Legal Director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), issued the following statement:

“The claim made by the plaintiffs was from the outset breathtaking in its audacity.  Their assertion that churches are completely excused from complying with non-discrimination statutes has no foundation in the law. To the contrary, Massachusetts courts have struck an important balance between principles of non-discrimination and religious liberty—applying the public accommodations law to entities, including religious ones, when engaged in secular activities and not applying the law to entities when engaged in any religious activities.

“We are glad to see ADF withdraw its baseless claim but stand prepared to ensure that when churches engage in non-religious activities, they are bound by the law just like everyone else.”

More than 350 faith leaders, churches, and congregations announced support for the transgender protections law over the past year. For a full list of these clergy and churches, visit www.freedommassachusetts.org/faith/ . In April, more than 300 of these clergy and over 50 congregations participated in a Faith Weekend of Action in support of the transgender protections law, stating:

“We believe in treating others the way we’d like to be treated. … We should all be treated equally under the law. As Faith Leaders we are called to take a stand for those who face discrimination to repudiate acts of prejudice. The [transgender protections law] extends basic civil rights to those who too often live in fear of harm.”

To read an in-depth story about the story, the lawsuit, the name of the ADF clients and more visit: https://goo.gl/X5ow3h.

This story was compiled with excerpts from news releases from Freedom Massachusetts Education Fund, GLAD, and former TRT stories and newly received information.

Freedom Massachusetts Education Fund is the bipartisan campaign working to grow support for transgender equality in Massachusetts.

Through strategic litigation, public policy advocacy, and education, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders works in New England and nationally to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation.

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