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Iowa Church Hits Back Against Iowa Law Forcing Churches to Comply to Transgender Bathroom Law

( [email protected] ) Jul 06, 2016 10:53 AM EDT
An Iowa Church is hitting back after the state's Civil Rights Commission attempted to force the congregation to allow biological males who identify as women to use women's bathrooms, and the same for females identifying as men.
A sign protesting a recent North Carolina law restricting transgender bathroom access adorns the bathroom stalls at the 21C Museum Hotel in Durham, North Carolina May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

An Iowa Church is hitting back after the state's Civil Rights Commission attempted to force the congregation to allow biological males who identify as women to use women's bathrooms, and the same for females identifying as men.

Earlier this week, the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ filed a 32-page lawsuit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission charging that the latter is violating the church's freedom of religion with its interpretation of the 2007 Iowa Civil Rights Act, known as Iowa Code Chapter 216.

The lawsuit came after the the commission released a brochure, titled "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity - A Public Accommodations Provider's Guide to Iowa Law," stating that churches are public accommodations and therefore generally subject to the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

The Washington Times notes that under a section header titled "Does this law apply to churches?" the brochure says: "Sometimes. Iowa law provides that these protections do not apply to religious institutions with respect to any religion-based qualifications when such qualifications are related to a bona fide religious purpose."

"Where qualifications are not related to a bona fide religious purpose, churches are still subject to the law's provisions," the brochure continues, adding that church activities such as "a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public" are not examples of "bona fide religious purpose[s]."

In the 32-page lawsuit, the church claims the commission is forcing places of worship to censor their teachings on Biblical sexuality by demanding they open their restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex.

Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the group representing the church, told Fox News contributor Todd Starnes that the Commission's brochure directly violates religious freedom.

"It further compels our client to use specific pronouns when referring to certain 'gender identities' and prohibits our client from even teaching its religious beliefs," Sasser said.

"Cornerstone World Outreach cannot be made to open its restrooms for use by individuals in accordance with their gender identities, rather than their sex assigned at birth," he added.

The church is calling for the commission to amend its published policy to clarify that it will not apply Iowa Code 216 against churches, and they must also acknowledge that Cornerstone World Outreach is exempt from enforcement.

"We believe that every church should be free to both teach its religious beliefs and use its house of worship in a way that is consistent with those religious beliefs," Attorney Christina Holcomb told local news station KCCI.

Alliance Defending Freedom says this suit is considered a "pre-enforcement challenge" where an organization can be pro-active about a law before it's actually enforced.

Chelsey Youman, First Liberty's chief of staff, told Fox News that the ramifications of Iowa's policy "cannot be overstated."

"This is an unprecedented move by a government agency to mandate that anytime a church opens its doors to the public that it automatically qualifies as a place of public accommodation," Youman said. "And this is just the tip of the iceberg."

She added, "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. 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."