In 2016, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission was sued by two churches because of their interpretation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act as it relates to churches expressed in a 2012 brochure entitled “Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity: A Public Accommodations Provider’s Guide to Iowa Law.” 

It read, “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. (e.g. a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public).”

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission then released a revised brochure that provided clearer language as the law relates to religious institutions.

It read then and still reads, “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. For example, the law may apply to an independent day care or polling place located on the premises of the place of worship.”

The current brochure dealing with public accommodations law as it applies to LGBT persons was revised in 2018, and still contains problematic language, in this case, for businesses.

In describing illegal harassment, the brochure states that the “intentional use of names and pronouns inconsistent with a person’s presented gender” could be considered illegal harassment. 

This statement is troubling as it conflicts with freedom of speech and conscience. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission states that to satisfy the Iowa Civil Rights Act, those offering public accommodation must use pronouns that defy basic biology and grammar. 

Personally, while I will use whatever name someone wants to be called, forcing Iowans to use pronouns inconsistent with a person’s biological sex is not only coerced speech, but it also forces Iowans to lie and possibly violate their religious conscience.

Not only that, but the Iowa Civil Rights Commission also explains that businesses could be considered liable for a patron’s harassment if they fail “to intervene in sufficiently severe conduct by another patron.” 

So business owners are now responsible for what their customers say and do. What does that intervention look like? What does “sufficient severe conduct” look like? 

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission brochure provides guidance that goes further than the Iowa Code states and is far too subjective.

Their guidance does not trump Iowans’ First Amendment rights and this brochure should be revised yet again.

Read the brochure below:

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