The Iowa Civil Rights Commission claims it has the right to control content of church services that are “open to the public.”
“Where qualifications are not related to a bona fide religious purpose,” the commission said in response to a question whether or not the [state’s] transgender-discrimination requirements apply to churches, “churches are still subject to the law’s provisions. (e.g. a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public).”
In a lawsuit against the commission, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), on behalf of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, the plaintiff, charges that the “mandates violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections for free speech, religion, expressive association, due process and the right to peaceably assemble.”
At issue is the state mandate that supposedly protects “transgender rights,” which allow “men to enter women’s shower rooms, dressing rooms and restrooms if they say they are women, and banning statements in meetings ‘open to the public’ that “might cause individuals to believe that they are unwelcome because of their perceived gender identity”
“This is a civil rights action” the lawsuit says, “is to stop the commissioners and the executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the Iowa attorney general, and the city of Des Moines from compelling an Iowa church to communicate government messages to which it objects and from forcing the church to use its building in violation of its religious beliefs. It explains the commission believes its interpretation of state law allows it “to force churches to allow individuals access to church restrooms, shower facilities, and changing rooms based on his or her gender identity, irrespective of biological sex.”
“The commission’s interpretation grossly misunderstands the religious purposes and beliefs of [the] Plaintiff… The church holds worship, religious services, Sunday School classes, Bible studies, youth-oriented activities, annual vacation Bible schools, Easter activities, Christmas pageants and other ministry events based on its religious beliefs.
“As a result, there are messages, practices, and activities that the church would not sponsor, host, or otherwise communicate because those messages, practices, and activities would violate the church’s understanding of God’s truth. The activities that the church allows in its facility must be consistent with the church’s understanding of God’s truth, and must not present a message that contradicts the church’s understand of God’s truth.”
“Not only does the commission’s ‘open restrooms’ mandate violate the church’s rights,” says the complaint, “‘the language of the act and the city code are broad enough to include within that prohibition sermons, theological expositions, educational speeches, newsletters or church worship bulletin text, or other statements from the church and its leaders.
“The church’s minister desires to preach sermons addressing God’s design for human sexuality” the complaint continues, “and the church’s beliefs about ‘gender identity,’ but reasonably fears that if it were to do so it would violate the act’s and the city code’s speech ban,” the complaint explains.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions “restraining all defendants … from enforcing or applying” the law to the church.
“The speech ban could be used to gag churches from making any public comments – including from the pulpit – that could be viewed as unwelcome to persons who do not identify with their biological sex. This is because the commission says the law applies to churches during any activity that the commission deems to not have a ‘bona fide religious purpose.’”
ADF legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said churches “should be free to teach their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship according to their faith without being threatened by the government.”
“That is a foundational First Amendment principle,” she said. “Churches have always been protected from government intrusion, and they still are. They have a firmly established freedom to teach their beliefs and set internal policies that reflect their biblical teachings about marriage and human sexuality. One can hardly imagine a more obvious unconstitutional invasion of the state into the internal affairs of the church.”
“As religious aggression subverts the liberties of our nation, those who would stand for freedom of conscience will be placed in unfavorable positions.” Maranatha, page 185