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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Marj Fogelman (R)

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Thursday, March 7, 2024

ST. PAUL – Should religious organizations in Minnesota be worried about their freedom to hire employees who meet their mission?


State Representative Marj Fogelman (R-Fulda) said a recent action in the Minnesota House suggests a liberty they once enjoyed is gone for good.


“A number of faith-based organizations alerted lawmakers to a change in state law that left them at risk,” Fogelman said. “An attempt to right this wrong was recently shot down by the majority party, and that move has left many of these religious groups wondering where they stand.”


Before last year, when gender identity was included within the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) definition of sexual orientation, the still-existing religious exemption for sexual orientation covered gender identity claims as well. When a new, separate definition of gender identity was passed into law by the legislative majority last year, there was no corresponding religious exemption added.


Assuming the change was a legislative oversight, a proposal was brought forward in a recent House committee hearing that would restore the status quo as it existed from 1993-2023. Fogelman said the amendment language simply reinstituted the religious exemption in the MHRA protecting religious organizations and faith-based schools against claims of gender identity discrimination. That exemption ensures that religious organizations and faith-based schools can, among other things, hire teachers and ministers consistent with their vocation and values. 


During the hearing, a broad coalition of testifiers came forward to support the amendment to protect religious liberty in our state, including the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, Agudath Israel of Minnesota, and the Islamic Center of Minnesota.


After hearing their testimony, Fogelman said the majority party shot down the amendment, and one member who opposed the measure proceeded to insult members of the religious community who testified in favor of the plan.


Fogelman said at least one faith-based school is already facing an employment complaint at the department of human rights due to the exemption being removed.


“Purposely opposing and removing this protection from the Human Rights Act should sound an alarm for faith-based organizations in our state,” Fogleman said. “We have separation of church and state for a reason. When a group of lawmakers decides their personal feelings are more important than constitutionally established religious freedoms, then people of faith need to start paying better attention to the actions taking place at the State Capitol.”