Minnesota town with approved ‘whites-only’ church insists it isn’t racist

'Just because we respect our own culture, that doesn’t mean we are denigrating someone else’s' said one of the church leaders.

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In Murdock, Minnesota, the Asatru Folk Assembly was granted a conditional use permit to open a church there that operates on pre-Christian beliefs.

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According to NBC News, one of those beliefs is that their congregation is for whites only. A council vote approved the decision to allow the assembly to open, however residents of the small town are pushing back. The news outlet reported the farming town with a population of about 280 people has launched an online petition which earned about 50,000 signatures to prohibit the religious institution from calling their city home.

Longtime residents believe the church assumed that their presence in the the small town would not get any attention or response.

“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,” Peter Kennedy, a resident of Murdock, said to NBC News. “Racism is not welcome here.”

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Still, the church claims not to hold racist beliefs or practices. According to the report, the faith group based in Brownsville, California says the religion is for “those of strictly European bloodlines.” Membership numbers are unknown and the news outlet is unaware of who exactly is to attend church in the Minnesota town.

“We’re not. It’s just simply not true,” said Allen Turnage, a folk assembly board member told NBC News. “Just because we respect our own culture, that doesn’t mean we are denigrating someone else’s.”

“We respect the ways our ancestors viewed the world and approached the universe a thousand years ago,” Turnage said.

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The Asatru Folk Assembly is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a Neo-Völkisch hate group. According to the SPLC, “neo-Völkisch hate groups romanticize pre-Christian Viking culture. NBC News reported the group’s website stated their forefathers are “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.”

Although the permit was approved, local political leaders claimed it was a legal obligation.

“We were highly advised by our attorney to pass this permit for legal reasons to protect the First Amendment rights,” Mayor Craig Kavanagh said to the news outlet. “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.”

He continued,  “Just because we voted yes doesn’t mean we’re racist.”

Despite pushback from residents, some locals have welcomed the church. Though they don’t agree with its ideologies, they say they want to be respectful. According to NBC News, Jesse James, a Murdock resident of 26 years, shared his reasoning about the church’s presence on Facebook.

“I find it hypocritical, for lack of a better term, of my community to show much hate towards something they don’t understand. I for one don’t see a problem with it,” he said. “I do not wish to follow in this pagan religion, however, I feel it’s important to recognize and support each other’s beliefs.”

City council member Stephanie Hoff cast the one dissenting vote in the 3-1 decision. Her council term ends this month.

“I know that we have the legality standpoint, and I personally felt we had a chance to fight it. I think we could have fought it had we went to court,” she said to NBC News. “I felt that we had a case with the emotional and mental well being of the city of Murdock.”

Lawyers outside of the matter said the council could have voted against the church due to discriminatory practices.

“No institution that proposes to exclude people on account of race is allowed to run an operation in the state of Minnesota,” said Laurence H. Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University.

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