Friday, October 14, 2016


North Carolina was the state that sparked the debate of transgender rights in the United States. The state famously tried to restrict use of bathrooms and locker rooms to a person’s biological gender. Since then, the debate about access to public bathrooms has raged.

Recently, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in Massachusetts filed suit against the state’s Attorney General Maura Healey, asking for an exemption from a state law that requires public places to allow transgender people to use bathrooms according to their gender identity. The ADF and other religious organizations are arguing that the law is an encroachment on a church’s freedom of religious expression and freedom of speech.

President of the Massachusetts Family Institute, who is working with the ADF, said “This is bigger than bathrooms. This law is eliminating rights that have existed for as long as this country has been in existence — fundamental rights to privacy, to modesty and safety, now constitutional rights to religious freedom.” 

The complaint points out that “The Churches’ policies and practices regarding access to their changing rooms and restrooms flow logically and directly from their religious beliefs concerning God’s design for biological sex and the desire to use their facilities in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs.”

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and Massachusetts Attorney General do not support exempting religious organizations from enforcement of the law because they found that churches can be public places along with places of worship. The MCAD issued guidance on how to comply with the law saying “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 suit brings to light issues that span from constitutional to religious to political in nature. While these ideas are not mutually exclusive they can clash at times.  This suit is one of the first to raise the issue of balancing deeply held religious beliefs that may conflict with transgender rights and laws which protect those rights. Stay tuned.