“This bill was never about discrimination … it 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,” says a Bay State representative in light of new government guidelines that promise to force transgender ideology on churches.
The guidelines, first brought to light by legal professor Eugene Volokh writing for the Washington Post, were released by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination following the commonwealth’s controversial “bathroom bill” (passed and signed into law over the summer. The guidelines hold that churches who hold events “open to the public” will have to comply.
“Places of public accommodation may not discriminate against, or restrict, a person from services because of that person’s gender identity,” the draft reads. “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.”
Even more troubling, the guidelines don’t even stop at forcing the new rules on institutions. Individual congregants and parishioners will also have to play along, as “all entities subject to the law” are encouraged to “use names, pronouns, and gender-related terms” that coincide with a person’s imagined gender, and “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.”
Violating these provisions comes with a steep price. Noncompliance carries with it a maximum sentence of a year in prison, a fine of $2,500, or both, reports Dustin Siggins at The Stream.
Rep. Jim Lyons, a Republican state representative from Andover who vigorously opposed the bill, said it was unnecessary and forced common sense “out the window.” In an emailed statement to Conservative Review Sunday night, he said that the latest developments only made the legislation’s true intentions more obvious.
“This bill was never about discrimination,” reads the statement from Lyons, “it 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.”
“The bathroom bill is all about changing society,” it continues. “This bill is eliminating our rights to privacy, our rights to protect our children and our rights to religious liberty.”
The bill passed the Massachusetts house by an overwhelming vote last June following a scathing, 16-minute dissent from Lyons, in which he warned about the previous regulations that were issued to the commonwealth’s public schools. A few weeks later, the bill was released from a conference committee and signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker on July 8.
“People are here [in the chamber] and are pointing to what happened many years ago and I have to think that if they were looking down upon us, they would ask us, ‘where did common sense go?’” said Lyons in June. “Common sense, in my opinion, has been thrown out the window with this legislation.”
Massachusetts is the second state this year in which a government commission put forward transgender bathroom regulations that have included places of worship. In July, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission put out an online brochure that would have imposed similar provisions. After pressure from local and national religious freedom advocates, including a lawsuit from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Iowa commission eventually backpedaled and revised the controversial parts of the brochure to clarify what the phrases “open to the public” and “bona fide religious practices” meant.
“This bill is eliminating our rights to privacy, our rights to protect our children and our rights to religious liberty.”
The change garnered praise from both ADF and the state’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, who claimed the commission has “no intention of going after people for exercising their freedom of religion.”
While the problematic language was quickly worked out in Iowa, the test balloon in deep-blue Massachusetts may very well hold up against national scrutiny (unless a grassroots conservative ballot initiative is successful in getting the “bathroom bill” at the ballot box this November).
Keep MA Safe, a project of the Massachusetts Family Institute, is working to repeal the public accommodation bill by means of a ballot question, in order to “help protect the safety and privacy of women and children” and “the church’s right to freely operate according to scripture.”
The group has been gathering signatures through an aggressive, multi-platform effort, including mailed petitions, email campaigns, direct appeals to churches and other community organizations, and even old-fashioned pavement pounding.
“We’re gathering them everywhere we can, from after school at student sports games to standing in front of grocery stores and post offices, to conducting drives at churches,” says Keep MA Safe Chairman Chanel Prunier tells Conservative Review via email.
The group needs 32,000 certified signatures from registered voters in the Bay State to get the question onto the November ballots. Prunier says they want 50,000 to 60,000 of “raw” signatures, to ensure that they have the required number of “good” ones by the September 22 deadline.
“We think we’re in pretty good shape,” Prunier added, in email. “But there are a TON of moving parts. We need to make sure we have a strong final weekend to make sure we make it.”
In addition to threatening the “safety, privacy, and modesty of women and children” throughout the commonwealth, Prunier says the law is also troublingly vague and offers no metrics to verify that a person actually identifies as something other than their biological sex. “Other states have provisions for proving you’re taking hormone therapy or seeing a doctor or planning to undergo surgery,” she says. “Massachusetts has none of that. Both the law and the Attorney General’s regulations state gender identity relates to one’s internal sense of self, not any physical or objective standard.”
“Men who claim to be women can go into very private spaces (locker rooms, bathrooms, changing rooms),” Prunier added, “and there’s nothing that other patrons or business owners can do.”