It may now be against the law for Iowa pastors to teach on Genesis 1 that God created mankind – male and female – in His own image.
The religious liberty organization Alliance Defending Freedom, on behalf of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, has launched a pre-enforcement challenge to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s new interpretation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, passed in 2007.
Under this new interpretation, the state may prohibit churches from making “persons of any particular sexual orientation or gender identity” feel “unwelcome, objectionable, [or] not acceptable,” according to a brochure published by the Iowa State Civil Rights Commissions.
Lawyers representing the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ worry that this broad interpretation of the Civil Rights Act could be used to silence preachers teaching from the pulpit about biblical sexuality. Comments from any church official that makes a gay or transgender person feel ‘uncomfortable’ during services or any other event open to the public may put the church in violation of the law.
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has also determined that places of public accommodation — including churches, which are open to the public — must allow individuals to use whatever locker room, shower, or bathroom is consistent with their biological identity, regardless of their biological sex.
First Liberty Institute, another religious liberty organization, sent a letter to the Civil Rights Commission on behalf of Cornerstone World Outreach, a church in Sioux City. The letter asks the Commission to provide the church with an exemption by August 4. First Liberty Institute is willing to “pursue ‘all available legal options’” if the church is not granted the exemption.
“The state claims it has the power to regulate what the church even teaches – what they are allowed to say from the pulpit – in addition to how they operate regarding matters of gender and sexuality,” Chelsey Youman, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, said. “If the church has a doctrine or theology that is at odds with the state and they speak out about that – they can have the full weight of the law brought down against them.”
The most worrisome development is the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s decision to subject churches to public accommodation requirements. Though churches are exempt from requirements of the Iowa Civil Rights Act in their “bona fide religious activities,” the Commission has decided that any service or activity open to the public is a public accommodation that is not exempt from civil rights law.
Churches in Washington state should pay attention to these developments in Iowa. Religious organizations are currently exempted from Washington’s non-discrimination law, though what qualifies an organization as “religious” is murky. If Washington’s Human Rights Commission were to follow Iowa’s lead in defining church services as public accommodations, the religious organization exemption may no longer protect a significant portion of church activities.
If pastors don’t stand up now, they may soon have to break the law in order to preach the Word.