A Des Moines church has dropped its lawsuit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, after a federal court reassured the church it would not face penalties for preaching and following its views on homosexuality and transgender issues, including single-sex bathrooms.
“The Iowa commission’s guidance was vague and empowered government bureaucrats far beyond what the constitution allows,” said Steve O’Ban, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel. “The court cut off this unconstitutional power grab by clarifying that the law does not apply to churches and reassured Iowa churches that they are free from improper state interference.”
O’Ban represented Fort Des Moines Church of Christ in U.S. district court. The church filed suit based on fears that the state’s anti-discrimination policy on gender identity and sexual orientation would make it legally liable for preaching and following its views on homosexuality and transgender issues – including maintaining single-sex bathrooms.
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission, however, said it has never enforced the law against churches and had been clear that churches are generally exempt.
“We have the same comments that we had in July, there had been no change to the law, no change in the application of the law and we were never trying to impose any kind of requirements against the preachers and the pulpit,” Kristin H. Johnson, the commission’s executive director, told the Des Moines Register.
In mid-October, the federal court ruled that the legal challenge was based on reasonable concerns of fear of prosecution, but at the same time said that churches are not public accommodations subject to government control.
The court also declined church attorneys’ request for a preliminary injunction against state enforcement.
Christian Holcomb, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said the lawsuit was necessary to ensure there would be no state enforcement of the law against churches. She added “we’re pleased that Iowa churches now have the reassurance and clarity that they need.”
Earlier this year, the state civil rights commission had produced a guide to Iowa law for public accommodations providers concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.
The brochure-sized guide said the 2007 Iowa Civil Rights Act applies to churches “sometimes.” It suggested that churches could be subject to the law if they operated a child care facility or held “a church service open to the public.”
The guide barred harassment including “intentional use of names and pronouns inconsistent with a person’s presented gender.”
According to the commission, the law requires locker rooms, restrooms, and living facilities in places of public accommodation to be open to persons based on their self-identified gender identity.
The civil rights commission receives complaints from those who believe they have been discriminated against. Its pamphlet said it was designed for educational purposes only and not intended to be legal advice.
The pamphlet was revised after the lawsuit was filed.