Iowa Commission Alters Language on When Gender Identity Laws Apply to Churches

church pdDES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Human Rights Commission has altered the language of its public accommodations brochure in an attempt to assuage concerns about requirements for houses of worship, but one group says that it doesn’t go far enough to protect religious freedom.

As previously reported, the Commission’s previous publication “Public Accommodations Provider’s Guide to Iowa Law” noted that sometimes churches are required to follow restroom use and speech laws.

“Where qualifications are not related to a bona fide religious purpose, 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),” the brochure read.

In addition to regulations about public accommodations, one of the Des Moines nondiscrimination laws highlighted by concerned parties outlines that it is illegal to “[d]irectly or indirectly print or circulate or cause to be printed or circulated any advertisement, statement, publication or use any form of application for entrance and membership which expresses, directly or indirectly, any limitation, specification or discrimination as to race, religion, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, ancestry or disability…”

But following a lawsuit from attorneys representing Fort Des Moines Church of Christ and a demand letter from attorneys representing Cornerstone World Outreach, the Commission adjusted the concerning section of its brochure to provide clarification.

The groups had expressed concern that the Commission might punish churches for their restroom policies and/or for speaking about their biblical stances on gender identity.

“Places of worship (e.g. churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) are generally exempt from the Iowa law’s prohibition of discrimination, unless the place of worship engages in non-religious activities which are open to the public,” the new text now reads. “The law may apply to an independent day care or polling places located on the premises of the place of worship.”

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But the Commission says that its original language was never meant to punish pastors.

“The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has not done anything to suggest it would be enforcing these laws against ministers in the pulpit, and there has been no new publication or statement from the ICRC raising the issue,” director Kristin Johnson told the Des Moines Register on Friday.

However, some are still concerned about the language in the publication and state that it does not go far enough to provide assurances that churches will not face legal sanctions.

“While the commission was right to remove some of the most disturbing language in its brochure, the change in the brochure doesn’t fix the inherent problem with the Civil Rights Act that forms the basis of the lawsuit—that the act gives the commission power to determine what parts of a church’s activities do not have a ‘bona fide religious purpose’ and are thereby subject to the act’s prohibitions,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) legal counsel Christiana Holcomb, who represents Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, said in a statement.

But First Liberty, which represents Cornerstone World Outreach, is pleased with the results.

“We’re taking the state at its word that it will not encroach on the church in any way,” remarked Chief of Staff Chelsey Youman. “However, if it does in the future, we stand ready to use the full force of the law to protect the church’s free exercise of religion and free speech under the Constitution.”

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  • Grace Kim Kwon

    Gender is decided by God physically and it has nothing to do individuals’ feelings. People have rights to live by God’s objective truth instead of appeasing sinful authorities and mentally ill people – that was the reason the human rights and liberty were established in the Western civilization. Sinners and mentally ill people must be taught God’s objective truth instead of forcing their lies upon others.

  • cadcoke5

    I am part of a Christian-oriented arts group. But, if such a group is not a house of worship,this law would prevent them from enforcing proper morals in regards to use of their facility. For an actual example, there was a cross-dressing young man who came to one of their shows. The group is not a hate group, and so he was not attacked. Rather I saw one of our leaders counseling with him after the show. If he would have needed to use a toilet, I expect we would have shown him to the men’s room, after first checking that the coast was clear, and permitted him to use the facility alone.

    The above actions, would have been illegal under the Iowa law. They are demanding that Christians abandon the morals that they should be living by.

  • Church bake sales: open to the public, but prohibited as non-religious activity, because an activist member of the public may need to go to the loo. What do these people have against cake!?

    • hytre64

      My church just held a Jeep show over the weekend. 250 Jeeps and over 600 people. FREE to the public. Because this is a “non-religious activity” (even though we used it as an opportunity for a lot of 1-on-1 dialogue), does that mean that our church would be under sanction in IOWA because we only allow true females in the ladies room?

      What do these bureaucrats have against Jeeps?

  • TheBottomline4This

    Not many trans are going to go to a Biblical Church in the first place. If they want to turn from the sin they may or if they are simply wanting to cause trouble they may. If a trans comes to a Church and is there for the right reasons, then they shouldn’t have any problem going to the bathroom of the sex they were born.
    Most Church services last about an hour. The trans can go to the bathroom before they come to Church or just hold it if they don’t want to go to the right bathroom that matches their born gender/sex.