religious discrimination racism asatru minnesota government atheism
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religious discrimination racism asatru minnesota government atheism
Painting of Egil Skallagrimsson, whose life saga gives a glimpse into the political, social, and cultural climate of 10th century Scandinavia, according to the Asatru Folk Assembly. (Asatru Folk Assembly website)

Here’s yet another good reason the original intent of the First Amendment’s religious freedom clause needs to be clarified:

A newly opened church in the tiny farming hamlet of Murdock, Minnesota (population 280) — the Asatru Folk Assembly — claims its whites-only membership requirement is religious and thus not racist.

The Murdock City Council didn’t necessarily buy that claim but, fearing an expensive legal battle, granted the church a conditional use permit to open its church in a former local Lutheran worship building and practice its “pre-Christian religion that originated in northern Europe,” NBC News reported this week.

The town’s broader citizenry doesn’t appear to share the council’s legal worries. Opponents of the discriminatory church collected 50,000 protesting signatures in an online petition to stop the opening of the church, the article noted.

“I think they thought they could fly under the radar in a small town like this, but we’d like to keep the pressure on them,” said Peter Kennedy, a longtime Murdock resident. “Racism is not welcome here.”

Kennedy and others point out that the community supports the large number of Hispanic farm workers who have migrated to work on Murdock-area farms — those migrants now comprise 20 percent of the population — and that a whites-only church was an unwelcoming slap in their face.

religious discrimination racism asatru minnesota government atheism
Stephen McNallen, allsherjargothi (leader) of the Asatru Folk Assembly. (Stephen McNallen, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Although Asatru Folk Assembly leaders stress that they aren’t racist but only “respecting our own culture,” and that they don’t denigrate any other ethnic group, the Southern Policy Law Center (SPLC) begs to disagree. The group is a “neo-Volkisch hate group” that “couches their bigotry in baseless claims of bloodlines grounding the superiority of one’s white identity,” according to the SPLC.

In a recent post on his The Free Thinker blog, Barry Duke quoted the SPLC further warning about Asatru:

“At the cross-section of hypermasculinity and ethnocentricity, this movement seeks to defend against the unfounded threats of the extermination of white people and their children.”

Desite its pro-Scandinavian roots, the group has branched out since 2015. It’s “whites only” ethos, while not specifically mentioned on the Asatru Folk Assembly website, carries disquieting Aryan, or Nazi-esque, undertones. The website states:

“The soul of Asatru … is not confined to the Scandinavian model but encapsulates the belief of all the Ethnic European Folk. Indeed, Asatru reflects the deeper religiosity common to virtually all the nations of Europe.”

These nations, it should be pointed out, were originally populated exclusively by white Aryans.

Wikipedia’s page about the Asatru group describes it as a California-based “white supremacist” organization founded in 1994 and that its doctrines are based on “ethnicity,” an approach the group refers to as “folkish.” It is officially recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit religious organization.

Still, Asatru leaders insist they are just part of a retro religious organization that “honor[s] the Gods under the names given to them by our Germanic/Norse ancestors.” The group lists its “forefathers” as “Angels and Saxons, Lombards and Heruli, Goths and Vikings, and, as sons and daughters of these people, they are united by ties of blood and culture undimmed by centuries.”

The problem posed by the U.S. Constitution’s religious-freedom clause is represented by the two-pronged reason the Asatru group was granted a church use permit by the city council.

First was the wrongheaded idea that people’s private, supernatural “beliefs” are somehow sacrosanct, as reflected in this justification by 26-year Murdock resident Jesse James (not related to the Wild West anti-hero):

“I do not wish to follow in this pagan religion, however, I feel it’s important to recognize and support each other’s beliefs.”

The unspoken part is crucial: It’s OK even if this “belief” system trashes another part of the Constitution, one that guarantees equal treatment under the law and separation of church and state (which mandates laws, such as non-discrimination, which apply to citizens of all — or no — beliefs).

The second irrelevant reason for the council’s favoring of religious discrimination over fundamental human rights is temporal fear:

“We were highly advised by our attorney to pass this permit for legal reasons to protect the First Amendment rights,” Mayor Craig Kavanagh said, according to NBC. “We knew that if this was going to be denied, we were going to have a legal battle on our hands that could be pretty expensive.”

Despite Asatru claims, an organization can be racist and religious simultaneously, but the latter should not absolve the former, despite one’s self-serving interpretation of the Constitution.

Murdock City Attorney Don Wilcox opined that it was all a “free speech and freedom of religion” issue.

“I think there’s a great deal of sentiment in the town that they don’t want that group there,” he said. “You can’t just bar people from practicing whatever religion they want or saying anything they want as long as it doesn’t incite violence.”

But what if it incites — or even mandates — racial discrimination?

Abigail Suiter, an opponent of the city use permit who lives in a nearby community, voiced  an objection similar to my own:

“It’s ironic the city council didn’t want to commit discrimination against the church, but the church is discriminating against Blacks,” said Abigail Suiter, 33, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “It’s very telling of where the priority is and whose lives matter.”

Exactly so.

Yet authorize discrimination they did.

Nonetheless, Mayor Kavanaugh still insists that’s not what the council did.

“The biggest thing people don’t understand is, because we’ve approved this permit, all of a sudden everyone feels this town is racist, and that isn’t the case,” he said. “Just because we voted yes doesn’t mean we’re racist.”

Well, if the ruling condones racial discrimination and accommodates it, what’s the difference?

The Founding Fathers did not envision the First Admendment’s church-state separation clause as a vehicle for racial discrimination under cover of law. No, they wanted to keep faith from trampling republican rights shared by everyone.

That’s ironic, under the current circumstances.

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Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...

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