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

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Niska: House Republicans on brink of restoring religious freedom in Minnesota

Tuesday, May 7, 2024


ST. PAUL – State Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey, said House Republicans took a major step toward restoring religious freedom which Minnesota Democrats stripped from faith-based organizations last year.

The House on Tuesday approved a variation of legislation Niska authored, amending the Minnesota Human Rights Act to re-establish protections for religious entities against discrimination claims. The bill unanimously passed the Senate earlier in the day and, with the House also providing unanimous approval, it now is on Gov. Tim Walz’s desk for enactment.

“It’s a great day for religious freedom in Minnesota and I encourage the governor to sign this into law as soon as possible,” Niska said. “To be sure, this is not the language that I originally proposed, but it achieves the goal in my original bill of retaining for religious organizations a broad statutory exemption for both sexual orientation and gender.”

Niska said this move was necessary due to HRA legislation Democrats enacted in 2023, stripping religious protections that had been in place since 1993. 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.

“Both sides had to be flexible in working to resolve this issue and I think the finished respects all Minnesotans,” Niska said. “It protects institutional autonomy and the rights of association for people of faith,” Niska said. “This is a win for our state, and I thank members of the faith community and my colleagues across the aisle for working together on a solution.”

Niska, a constitutional lawyer by trade, said he is confident the courts ultimately would have ruled the change Democrats made last year unconstitutional. He also indicated he’s glad it didn’t get that far.

“We’re seeing a lot of reckless laws Democrats passed last year ending up in court and that’s likely where this issue was headed,” Niska said. “I have strongly urged Democrats to acknowledge some of their new laws did not hold muster and were destined to be overturned by the courts, all the while costing Minnesota taxpayers more in needless legal fees. The Democrats did not heed good-faith warnings and here we are. It’s just good to see we’re now poised to clean up the mess they made on religious freedom.”