Minnesota Legislature Faces Backlash Over Gender Identity Protections Amid Religious Freedom Concerns

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The Minnesota legislature amended the state’s Human Rights Act in 2023 to add protections for individuals based on their “gender identity,” but failed to update the corresponding religious exemption. This move effectively removed the exemption, leaving religious organizations vulnerable to discrimination claims.

The exemption, which had been in place since 1993, prohibited the state from forcing religious organizations to comply with anti-discrimination laws that were inconsistent with their sincerely held beliefs. However, the exemption was not updated to include the term “gender identity,” despite the addition of this category to the protected list of classes.

The omission of “gender identity” from the religious exemption was intentional, according to the House Judiciary Chair, and was met with resistance from Democratic legislators who called an amendment to protect religious organizations “disturbing” and “disgusting.”

The move not only threatened the freedom of religious organizations but also impacted the communities they serve. Religious organizations often provide vital services to marginalized and underserved groups, and the lack of protections could lead to the loss of these essential services.

The amendment could even threaten the existence of some religious organizations whose mission and religious beliefs are inseparable. The religious exemption was intended to protect the autonomy of religious institutions on matters of sexual identity, but the failure to update it has created uncertainty and fear among religious leaders.

The backlash to the amendment was swift, with both the Minnesota House and Senate voting unanimously to restore religious protections. However, the restoration of the exemption does not necessarily protect all religious individuals who work outside of religious institutions. Many fear that they will be forced to compromise their religious beliefs in order to comply with the anti-discrimination law.

Legal battles to defend religious freedom are ongoing in Minnesota, with new standards requiring state-licensed teachers to affirm students’ gender identities and proposed amendments to the state constitution aimed at attacking religious institutions.

Doug Seaton, a lawyer at Upper Midwest Law, underscored the importance of ongoing vigilance in the face of ongoing threats to religious liberty. “We must remain ever-vigilant in this constant battle, shining a light on these attacks and fighting them tirelessly. This particular instance may have ended in success, but it serves as a poignant reminder that eternal vigilance is the price we must pay to protect our liberty.”

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