December 12, 2016
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), representing four Massachusetts churches, today formally withdrew the lawsuit it had recently filed, claiming that the Massachusetts public accommodations non-discrimination law violates churches’ First Amendment rights. 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. Although challenging every aspect of the public accommodations law, the lawsuit seemed to be motivated by the recent addition of gender identity as a protected class in the Massachusetts law.
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.”