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Religious exemption to Minnesota Human Rights Act draws mixed reactions among faith communities

After a 2023 amendment to include gender identity in the Minnesota Human Rights Act, some representatives want a religious exemption added.
Image by Noah Liebl
Debate around a religious exemption is creating tension among communities of faiths who hold conservative or progressive beliefs on gender.

Reactions from faith communities are mixed around Minnesota Republicans pushing for a religious exemption regarding gender identity discrimination.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act was amended last year to prohibit discrimination against gender identity and now some Republican House members are seeking to add an exemption to the addition. 

Owen Bushaw, a student intern for college ministry Salt Company, said the exemption would benefit churches that hold a traditional stance on biblical gender and sexual identity.

Bushaw said a ministry like Salt Company would not hire people whose identities did not align with their traditional beliefs on gender, but they are still welcome at their ministry. 

“We don’t have anything against the LGBTQ community and we wouldn’t discriminate toward them or wouldn’t allow them in our doors,” Bushaw said. “We would seek to love them just as much as we would anybody else.”

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) said when they pushed to include gender identity in the Act, the issue of religious freedom was not brought up.

“It definitely strikes me as a political opportunity issue for them, where this isn’t coming from a place of good government,” Becker-Finn said. 

Becker-Finn said people of faith are not hurt by the current bill, as a ministerial exception already exists allowing religious institutions to not follow discrimination laws in the same way other organizations do.

“It’s permitted under the Constitution and it’s accepted by folks that this is the way that it’s written, as it is right now, in our Constitution and the way that the case law is,” Becker-Finn said. “We don’t have to explicitly put that exception in statute for that to legally exist.”

University Baptist Church Pastor Doug Donley said religious organizations have to protect the most vulnerable in society.

“That includes especially our trans friends and folks that are gender-nonconforming and people that have been singled out because of their gender expression,” Donley said.

Donley said Minnesota has become a sanctuary for transgender and gender-nonconforming people fleeing states with gender-discriminatory laws.

“Allowing a religious exemption undermines that wonderful sanctuary work that we’ve done,” Donley said.

Becker-Finn said adding an exemption would send the wrong message to the queer community.

“Why would we make it a point to say that this one group definitely can be discriminated against?” Becker-Finn said. “It sends a message that I think is not in line with a lot of our values, our beliefs about humanity and everybody’s ability to live freely and be protected from harm.”

Bushaw said the exemption would polarize religious communities on campus with traditional beliefs.

“It would raise more polarization of what Salt Company may believe, and then how that’s portrayed,” Bushaw said. “I think it portrays something that might not be very clear about the ministry just because of the people that it hires.”

Donley said it is important for people to not paint Christianity with discrimination and exclusion.

“If you’re looking for a place where you can express your desires for climate change, your desires for justice and peace in warring parts of the world and looking for a place for acceptance, there are plenty of faith communities out there, including ours,” Donley said.

Becker-Finn said she does not believe the exemption will pass as members of the Queer Caucus are unlikely to approve the exemption moving forward as written. 

Donley said even if the exemption passed, transgender religious people would continue to find faith communities.

“Trans religious folks have always been there and will continue to always be there,” Donley said.

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  • Enn
    Apr 18, 2024 at 8:54 am

    It’s really sad that religious institutions want the ability to discriminate against quote “people whose identities did not align with their traditional beliefs on gender”, but at the same time enjoy protections against religious discrimination by secular institutions and laws that are based solely on religious ideals and not the desire of society as a whole. This is called hypocrisy, the true basis of the deterioration of society.

    I grew up in a hypocritical religious cult. Luckily I escaped that horrible oppression at a very young age. The realization that even though this quote is from the Bible Luke 6:31, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” they did not follow it. They cherry picked the things they would follow to suit their own desires. Just imagine what a world we would have if humans could not be hypocritical.

  • curious
    Apr 17, 2024 at 6:17 am

    @Drew: Which part is well said? The part where Owen Bushaw explains that he and his ministry don’t discriminate against our 2SLBGTQIA+ relatives, he just wants a law that specifically rejects them in the workplace? Is that the part that made you exclaim ‘well said’?

  • Drew Bromley
    Apr 15, 2024 at 3:00 pm

    Well said, Owen!

  • David
    Apr 15, 2024 at 10:42 am

    I would hope that those utilizing the exemption towards anyone could be deposed in court for not following every and all tenants of their corresponding religion and if found to have been or be in violation of not following even 1 to its fullest would be grounds for the exemption not be be allowed.

  • one love
    Apr 15, 2024 at 7:34 am

    From the article: “it is important for people to not paint Christianity with discrimination and exclusion.”

    People don’t paint Christianity in a negative light. Christianity does that all by itself, pretty much non-stop. Just to keep up with the metaphors, few tongues are more forked than those in the mouths of the religious conservatives who look down at the rest of us from the highest of horses.