The city council of a small Minnesota town has allowed a Whites-only religious organization to use a vacant church.
Murdock, a town of fewer than 300 people, passed a conditional permit Wednesday to allow use of a church building bought by the Asatru Folk Assembly.
The Asatru Folk Assembly describes Asatru as “the religion by which the Ethnic European Folk have traditionally related to the Divine and to the world around them.” The website says that it is part of the “great Aryan religiosity.”
The Anti-Defamation League describes them as an “extremist group.”
City leaders said the passage of the permit was due to First Amendment rights.
“We as the leaders of the City of Murdock want it to be known that the City of Murdock condemns racism in all of its forms: Conscious, Unconscious, any place, any time, now and in the future,” Mayor Craig Kavanagh said during Wednesday’s meeting. “We are committed to building a community that promotes equal justice and opportunity to every single person regardless of their race.”
“The Conditional Use Permit for the AFA is very controversial if you want to make it about religious beliefs, but what is failing to get mentioned is this vote was not about beliefs,” Kavanagh said in a statement sent to CNN.
“This vote was about a zoning permit to let an old abandoned church be used for exactly what it was built for “a church.” Now I understand the beliefs of who will be using the church are much different from one another, but that is every person’s 1st amendment right according to the Constitution.”
The local chapter of the AFA thanked the city for its vote, in a statement posted on their Facebook page.
“To the City Council of Murdock, thank you. We know there was a lot of pressure on you to deny us our permit and right to worship,” the post said. “We appreciate your fairness and this opportunity.”
Kavanagh’s statement said the topic was a main topic of discussion at council meetings as well as in the community over the past few months. A public meeting was held in October and while the vote was originally scheduled in November, it was postponed so the mayor could bring in the city attorney and explain the legal ramifications, it said.
“I can assure you that nobody thought we would have to deal with a topic like this in our little town, but nothing is predictable in the year 2020, it seems,” he said.
The AFA includes in its statement of ethics the following:
“We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships. We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own. We believe that those activities and behaviors supportive of the white family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the white family are to be discouraged.”
Kavanagh’s statement went on to say that the city was advised to pass the permit, saying the circumstances could be a “substantial burden.”
“This town is still the same town it was before this CUP approval took place,” Kavanagh said. “The vote last night had nothing to do with beliefs or race, it was strictly a zoning issue the council felt like it needed to legally abide by or it would have caused a substantial burden to the town. We as a council still want what is best for the City of Murdock and will always do so.”