"Just because we voted yes doesn't mean we're racist," says Craig Kavanagh, mayor of a tiny Minnesota town that has granted a permit to a whites-only church. The Asatru Folk Assembly, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, says it is reviving pre-Christian Nordic folk beliefs and it will not admit people who are not of northern European descent. Residents of Murdock, population 280, say they plan to push back against the group despite a 3-1 council vote approving a change of use for a former Lutheran church the group bought and rehabilitated after it had been used as a residence, reports the Duluth News Tribune. The mayor says rejecting the permit could have led to a legal battle the town can't afford.
"We were highly advised by our attorney to pass this permit for legal reasons to protect the First Amendment rights," Kavanagh tells NBC. "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." Victoria Guillemard, an organizer for the Murdock Alliance Against Hate, tells the News Tribune that residents are going to support the town's Hispanic residents, who make up around 20% of the population, and let the Asatru Folk Assembly know "just how unwelcome they are." She says groups around the country, including one called Heathens Against Hate, have offered support. (Read more Minnesota stories.)