Although the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) generally prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, it also allows certain religious associations and educational institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in certain circumstances.

The MHRA includes an exemption for non-profit religious associations, religious corporations, or religious societies, or any institution organized for educational purposes that is operated, supervised, or controlled by a non-profit religious association, religious corporation, or religious society.  The exemption states that nothing in the MHRA prohibits such religious associations or educational institutions from “taking any action with respect to education, employment, housing and real property, or use of facilities . . . in matters relating to sexual orientation.”  Minn. Stat. § 363A.26.

The statute includes an important limitation on this exemption, however.  Specifically, the statute states that it “shall not apply to secular business activities engaged in by the religious association, religious corporation, or religious society, the conduct of which is unrelated to the religious and educational purposes for which it is organized.”

Takeaways:  Religious associations and educational institutions that are controlled by religious associations may discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in certain circumstances, but must be careful not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation with respect to “secular business activities” that are “unrelated to the religious and educational purposes” of the institution.