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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Harry Niska (R)

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Niska blasts Democrats for second blow at religious freedoms

Tuesday, March 19, 2024


ST. PAUL – State Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey, did not mince words after Senate Democrats followed suit on a House Democrat vote he said deals a serious a blow to religious freedom in Minnesota.

“Senate Democrats made it clear they agree with House Democrats and Gov. Tim Walz in their belief the state’s views trump your religious freedoms,” Niska said. “There are some things you just don’t mess with in America, and religious freedom is at the top of the list. This could very well be the biggest infringement Democrats have committed against Minnesotans in recent memory – and that’s saying a lot considering the radical, activist-driven agenda Democrats have forced on the people of our state the past 14 months.”

In late February, House Democrats voted down a measure Niska authored to restore a religious freedom provision that was deleted from state law last year. The proposal ensures religious organizations and faith-based schools can, among other things, hire teachers and ministers consistent with their mission and values. Already, Niska said, at least one faith-based school is facing an employment complaint at the department of human rights because of the removal of the exemption.

The issue resurfaced in the Senate when the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee convened around dinnertime Monday with Minnesota Human Rights Act legislation on the agenda. After first spending several hours on a series of bills Niska called “unserious,” it was not until after 1 a.m. Tuesday when Senate Democrats defeated the companion language to Niska’s proposal, this time offered by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

The Senate amendment was voted down along party lines, just as when Niska proposed it in the House.

“The Senate Democrats had a chance to restore the law to our long-held consensus that religious communities in Minnesota have the autonomy to decide questions of faith,” Niska said. “House Democrats, Senate Democrats and Gov. Walz had more than two weeks to step back off the ledge and do what’s right for Minnesotans. Instead, they only further entrenched themselves in their radical position that your religious freedoms take a back seat to the state’s rule, and the separation of church and state no longer exists in Minnesota.”

Before last year, when gender identity was included (or subsumed) within the 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 created last year, there was no corresponding religious exemption added. This issue caused alarm among Minnesota’s faith community and Niska worked with religious leaders to craft an amendment to MHRA legislation S.F. 4292. House Democrats and Senate Democrats then voted to keep that language off the overriding bill.