The City Council of Murdock, Minnesota recently granted a conditional use permit allowing a religious group to declare its new church a strictly “Whites Only” place of worship.
The decision by city leaders has divided the small farming town into heated debate.
Outraged residents, defensive leaders of the religious group, city attorneys and the mayor himself have all weighed in.
You can see local news coverage here:
Murdock’s total population numbers just over 200 residents. Recently, a vacant church building in the town was purchased by a “pre-Christian” religious group known as the Asatru Folk Assembly or AFA.
The AFA is based in Brownsville, California but set it sights on a new church in the region, NBC News reported.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who identified the AFA as a hate group, practitioners of the religion “base their spirituality on the survival of those descended from White Europeans and the preservation of what they claim are dead or dying cultures.”
The AFA’s Law Speaker, Allen Turnage, also clarified his church’s beliefs with Minnesota local news station Kare 11:
“We believe that as Northern Europeans it is not only our birthright but our obligation to maintain that ancestral memory and give worship and fealty to our gods and our ancestors.”
When asked about the church’s firm Whites only standards, Turnage had this to say:
“That is true. It’s true both that we don’t accept those members and that that’s the area of concern.”
“Because, and there are many different analogies, but I think the best analogy is that we view our gods as ancestors. If we have a family reunion, it’s only our family.”
The public controversy surrounding the new church began when the AFA was forced to apply for a zoning permit to use the newly purchased building as a place of worship. This was because the church sat inside a residential zone.
Despite opposition voiced by residents at the public hearing, the Murdock City Council voted to grant the church a permit to use the building as a worship place—and enforce its “Whites Only” restriction.
Residents have been outraged by the council’s decision.
One resident voiced her opposition to Kare 11.
“I don’t want a White Supremacist group coming into our town and preaching beliefs that are dangerous to people of color.”
But Murdock City Attorney Don Wilcox framed the issue as not about beliefs, but about very particular legal grounds.
“The big objection in the city is not so much using the building as having this organization in town at all. And that’s two different issues.”
“So you can’t use zoning to just keep an organization like that out. Whoever they are, they’re protected by the Constitution, free speech, freedom of religion.”
And according to NBC News, Mayor Craig Kavanagh shared a possible expensive legal retaliation played a big role in the city’s decision.
“We were highly advised by our attorney to pass this permit for legal reasons to protect the First Amendment rights.”
“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.”
Nonetheless, residents of Murdock have kicked their opposition into high gear.
An online petition against the group’s occupation of the building has already amassed 50,000 signatures.
And when the story made the rounds across the internet, vocal outrage was loud and plentiful.
In the end, Mayor Kavanagh was forced to defend the town as a welcoming place despite the recent vote.
“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.”
“Just because we voted yes doesn’t mean we’re racist.”