Ft. Des Moines Church of Christ
Ft. Des Moines Church of Christ

(Des Moines, IA) Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steve O’Ban argued in federal district court on Wednesday in favor of suspending a law that censors and attempts to control churches. O’Ban will also argue against the state of Iowa’s attempt to dismiss a church’s lawsuit over the law.

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s application of the law censors the church’s teaching on biblical sexuality and forces the church to open its restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex under certain conditions that the government dictates.

“The government shouldn’t be acting outside of its bounds in trying to regulate the practices of a church. Neither the commission nor any state law has the constitutional authority to dictate how any church uses its facility or what public statements a church can make concerning sexuality,” O’Ban said. “The court should make certain that no one can enforce this law against our client while this lawsuit proceeds.”

“Churches should be free to communicate their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship according to their faith without fearing government punishment,” added ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “Government bureaucrats have no authority to determine which church activities are religious and which ones aren’t. The law must be clear, but the only thing that’s clear right now is that the law gives too much power to those bureaucrats, who don’t even seem to understand the most basic constitutional principles.”

Last month, ADF attorneys filed a motion to temporarily suspend application of the law while the case moves forward in court and explained that recent changes to a public accommodations brochure the commission produced are insufficient to alleviate the concerns raised in the church’s lawsuit. The commission responded by doubling down on its extraconstitutional claim that it has the power to apply the law to churches and determine whether their activities are religious or not. It specifically analogized churches to for-profit businesses, seeming to miss the obvious constitutional differences between the two, as an ADF brief filed earlier this month explained.

The law at issue, the Iowa Civil Rights Act, bans places of public accommodation from expressing their views on human sexuality if they would “directly or indirectly” make “persons of any particular…gender identity” feel “unwelcome.” 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 because the commission has stated that the law applies to churches during any activity that the commission deems to not have a “bona fide religious purpose.”

Examples the commission previously gave in a brochure are “a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public,” which encompasses that churches hold. ADF attorneys explain that a recently revised version of the brochure isn’t much better, as it states that places of worship are only “generally exempt” from the law and that they will be subject to it if “the place of worship engages in non-religious activities which are open to the public.”

ADF attorneys representing Fort Des Moines Church of Christ in Des Moines continue to point out that all events held at a church on its property have a bona fide religious purpose, and that the commission has no authority to violate the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of religion and speech. The Iowa Civil Rights Act also includes a facility use mandate that requires anyone subject to the law to open sensitive areas like locker rooms, showers, and restrooms to persons based on their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex.

Timm Reid, one of nearly 3,100 private attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel on behalf of the church in the case, Fort Des Moines Church of Christ v. Jackson.

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