February 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Residents of a small town in southwest Minnesota are wary about a new house of worship in the community that espouses openly racist policies.

The Asatru Folk Assembly sought a conditional-use permit to open a worship facility in Murdock, a town of less than 300, in December. Officials granted the permit, but many people in the area are not happy about it.

“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, told NBC News. “Racism is not welcome here.”

Officials in Murdock said they oppose the Assembly’s white-supre­macist beliefs, but concluded they could not take steps to exclude them from the community.

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

City Attorney Don Wilcox echoed that, telling NBC, “I think there’s a great deal of sentiment in the town that they don’t want that group there. You can’t just bar people from practicing whatever religion they want or saying anything they want as long as it doesn’t incite violence.”

The town council voted 3-1 to allow the group to move into a building that had once been a Luth­eran church, but had since been refurbished as a residence. Because the building was considered residential, a zoning permit was required to convert it back to religious use.

Councilmember Stephanie Hoff cast the dissenting vote.

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

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes the Asatru Folk Assembly as a “hate group.” The group is allegedly based on pre-Christian beliefs, but the SPLC says its ideology preaches the superiority of “European” culture that promotes white supremacy.