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Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill Wednesday clarifying that religious protections exist in the state and U.S. Constitutions.

State Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey, posted on social media, "Thank you to all who spoke up in support of religious freedom and applied pressure to get this fixed!"

But DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park said there was no fix, only a clarification that religious freedoms are protected under the state and U.S. Constitutions.

Since last session, Republicans have raised concerns that the Legislature's addition of gender identity to the state's Human Rights Act impinged on the freedom of religion. Faith community members and GOP legislators held a news conference last month, raising concerns about the change to the act.

But Hortman said neither the Legislature nor the state's Human Rights Act could take away constitutional protections.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act, initially passed in 1993, bars discrimination based on race, religion, disability, national origin, sex, marital status, familial status, age, sexual orientation and gender identity in matters of employment, housing, education and public services.

Religious organizations are free, however, to hire whomever they choose in carrying out their ministerial duties. For example, Hortman said Catholics are allowed to hire only men to serve as priests.

The speaker said Republicans wanted a religious exemption to the Human Rights Act that would allow religious organizations to decline to hire based on a person's sexual orientation and gender identity. "We said we won't do that; we won't let you treat gay people and trans people in an inconsistent way," Hortman said.

In more recent discussions, Hortman said Republicans represented their position as "we don't want to discriminate except when doing that burdens our religion."

In an email announcing the signing, Walz referred to the change as a clarification of the law. Hortman said she expects a legal challenge.

At a Capitol news conference last month, Jason Adkins, executive director and general counsel of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, called the former law "an extraordinary intervention by the state" into religion. He said religious communities should have the ability to hire staff "in accordance with mission and beliefs."

In pushing for the change, House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said, "It is our duty to safeguard the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, including the right of each Minnesotan to freely exercise their religion."