Haverhill Church Sues to Block Transgender Law at Non-Religious Events

Marlene Yeo of Somebody Cares New England during an earlier WHAV appearance.

 Community Christian Fellowship Lead Pastor Marlene J. Yeo during a previous appearance on WHAV’s Open Mike Show.

A Haverhill church is seeking the right to turn away transgender people attending non-religious functions if they seek to use bathrooms not matching their birth gender.

Faith Christian Fellowship of Haverhill, also known as Community Christian Fellowship Haverhill, 358 Washington St., and its President/Lead Pastor Marlene J. Yeo, have joined three other churches in filing suit against the state to block enforcement of the new transgender rights law. Attorney Christiana Holcomb told WHAV being forced to comply with the law and related regulations would “violate deeply held convictions.”

“Pastor Yeo and the church there in Haverhill welcomes everyone to attend its services. It loves and welcomes everyone but it cannot violate the core of who it is. And so, in conjunction with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), it decided it was time to take a stand against the law and tell the government, ‘You have no business attempting to control our churches,’” Holcomb said. She spoke to WHAV in response to the radio station’s call to Yeo. From 2006 to 2011, Yeo also served as a trustee of Northern Essex Community College, appointed by Gov. Mitt Romney.

Holcomb represents Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, suing on behalf of the Haverhill church and ones in Fitchburg, Swansea and Southbridge. ADF asked the U.S. District Court, Boston, Oct. 11, for an emergency injunction to block the law. No action has yet been taken by the court. At issue is whether a church must follow laws with which it disagrees even during non-religious events and functions.

Spaghetti Supper Test

Guidance issued by the state’s Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) holds, “Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public.” MCAD, however, says in documents issues involving churches are decided on a case-by-case basis.

The churches named MCAD Commissioners Jamie R. Williamson, Sunila T. George and Charlotte G. Richie and Attorney General Maura Healey as defendants. Neither Healey nor the commissioners have replied and no court date has been set, according to Holcomb.

Holcomb said a review by ADF led Faith Christian Fellowship and the other churches of regulations accompanying the law compelled the churches to stand up and say ‘no’ to “government attempt to control” of how they operate.

She added there are problems with applying the equality regulation’s distinctions between exemption for religious activities and compliance for public functions.

“Everything a church does, even opening its church building to members of the public, is infused with religious purpose and as an extension of its religious mission and beliefs,” Holcomb said. The attorney general’s office disagrees.

“We are pleased that we finally have a law in place that protects transgender people from discrimination in public places,” Healy spokesperson Jillian Fennimore said in a written statement. “This law is about civil rights and is critical for people who were without full protection and equality under the law for too long.”

Holcomb predicted a court hearing date will come “within the next couple of months.”

“Churches are not places of public accommodation. They are private places of worship. And, as such, they welcome the public to join them. They do so to foster relationships in the community and share their faith. But when individuals walk on to a church premise, they’re walking onto private property and, as such, they must be respectful of the church’s religious convictions and how it intends to operate its premises,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb also emphasized Yeo welcomes the public to participate in church-related activities such as the adjacent Somebody Cares New England food pantry.

“She welcomes everyone to come participate in the food pantry. That’s part of her mission. That is part of how she loves and serves her community. But when a community comes to Pastor Yeo, they can’t ask her to be something other than what she is and ask her to violate her deeply held religious convictions in order to accommodate something that she knows does not promote human flourishing,” Holcomb said.

Yeo is also founder and President of Somebody Cares New England, a missions arm of Community Christian Fellowship Haverhill, operating as an “outreach to the poor and homeless.”

“Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith,” an online statement reads.

“The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and Attorney General Maura Healey both interpret the commonwealth’s public accommodations laws, as amended by the legislature in July, to force churches to open church changing rooms, shower facilities, restrooms, and other intimate areas based on their perceived gender identity, and not their biological sex, in violation of the churches’ religious beliefs. Because those laws also prohibit covered entities from making statements intended “to discriminate” or to “incite” others to do so, the commission and attorney general also intend to force churches and pastors to refrain from religious expression regarding sexuality that conflicts with the government’s views.”

4 thoughts on “Haverhill Church Sues to Block Transgender Law at Non-Religious Events

  1. They should change the name to Somebody cares unless you are different then they are! That’s exactly what it boils down to. To Claim to be Christian yet to deny the very same people that Jesus would have opened his arms to is so Anti Christian and it shocks me that this so called “Christian Pastor” cannot even see just how wrong her actions are! She needs to ask herself “WHAT WOULD JESUS DO IF HE WAS HERE?” and it sure as hell would not be to DISCRIMINATE against ANYONE… PERIOD! Remember Christ welcomed ALL, EVERYONE!!!

  2. Religious freedom is already protected under the law, all the new law does is add transgender people as a protected class to Massachusetts’ existing anti-discrimination laws in places of public accommodation.
    It’s laughable that these 4 churches are complaining while 350 religious congregations around the state have come out in support of transgender people.

  3. Somebody needs a little religion in his/her life, so much hatred in the post.
    However I do beleive the church needs to stop with the community business. It is a house of worship not a place for political agendas. It accepts community money and because of this it may be slanted in politics.
    Save it for city hall after all there’s plenty to flush there

  4. There’s nothing communal or Christian about the Community Christian Fellowship of Haverhill.

    Here’s a thought – keep your religion out of other people’s pants. If that’s too much of stretch for your feeble Xtian minds, stop hosting events open to the public and drop that pesky “community” misidentification from your name. Insulate your petty selves in an echo chamber and hope your invisible sky daddy finds another way to underwrite your hatred.