A church sued over Iowa’s state transgender policy when officials asserted they had authority to control the content of pastor’s sermons.
Now the church has filed a request for an immediate protective order in response to the state’s claim of authority to define what is religious.
The case is over the aggressive actions by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which has published guidelines for handling transgender issues in church gatherings that are “open to the public.”
The lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ aims “to stop the commissioners and the executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the Iowa attorney general, and the city of Des Moines from compelling an Iowa church to communicate government messages to which it objects and from forcing the church to use its building in violation of its religious beliefs.”
It explained the commission believes its interpretation of state law allows it “to force churches to allow individuals access to church restrooms, shower facilities, and changing rooms based on his or her gender identity, irrespective of biological sex.”
At issue in the Iowa case are state mandates that protect “transgender rights.” Among them are allowing men to enter women’s shower rooms, dressing rooms and restrooms if they say they are women and banning statements in meetings “open to the public” that “might cause individuals to believe that they are unwelcome because of their perceived gender identity”
The lawsuit charges the mandates violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections of free speech, religion, expressive association, due process and peaceably assembly.
Now ADF has asked the court for a preliminary injunction to protect the church from attacks by the state until the issue is resolved in court.
“After this lawsuit was filed, the commission revised its guidance document,” a brief filed in support of the request for an injunction said. “The commission continued to single out places of worship for special instruction and to sanction churches that communicate their beliefs about biological sex, and operate their facilities consistent with those beliefs, when they engage in ‘non-religious activities.’ The commission does not define the newly minted and vague term ‘non-religious activities,’ reserving to itself the unbridled discretion to determine for a church which of its activities are religious and which are not.”
The brief said that for “the first time in our nation’s history, state officials are reaching into the internal affairs of churches to silence them from teaching and publicly promoting a central tenet of their faith and forcing them to operate their own facilities in a way that contradicts their faith.”
“This unprecedented overreach eviscerates the First Amendment and the foundational freedoms it embodies; the freedom of church autonomy, freedom to worship, freedom of speech, freedom of rexpressive association, and freedom to peaceably assemble without government interference.”
The immediate protective order is needed, the church brief argues, because the state’s actions “directly and continually harm the church’s ability to teach its doctrines, to govern itself, and to follow its faith.”
“The church therefore needs a preliminary injunction to stop this ongoing irreparable harm and to bar the government from areas where it doesn’t belong — the church’s showers and restrooms, its sanctuary, and its pulpit.”
ADF lawyers said the filing came on the same day Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote to Iowa officials explaining the “approach taken by the ICRC plainly violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
“Cosmetic changes to the alarming language in one brochure won’t fix the unconstitutionality of the Iowa Civil Rights Act,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “Churches should be free to communicate their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship according to their faith without fearing government punishment, and until the law is changed, every church in Iowa has a right to be concerned.
“That’s why we are asking the court to issue an injunction that makes certain that this law will not be enforced against our client while this lawsuit proceeds. No state or local law should threaten the foundational First Amendment protections for free speech and the free exercise of religion.”
Commission officials declined to respond to a WND request for comment.
The state’s “transgender law” bans 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 silence pastors in their pulpits, ADF said.
ADF attorneys representing the church say all events on its property have a bona fide religious purpose, and 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 such as locker rooms, showers and restrooms to persons based on their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex.
Named as defendants are commission members Angela Jackson, Patricia Lipski, Mathew Hosford, Tom Conley, Douglas Oelschaleger, Lily Lijun Hou and Lawrence Cunningham, and city of Des Moines Executive Director Kristen Johnson and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
The following is a WND/Radio America interview with ADF legal counsel Christiana Holcomb on the issue:
Holcomb said churches “should be free to teach their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship according to their faith without being threatened by the government.”
“That is a foundational First Amendment principle,” she said. “Churches have always been protected from government intrusion, and they still are. They have a firmly established freedom to teach their beliefs and set internal policies that reflect their biblical teachings about marriage and human sexuality. One can hardly imagine a more obvious unconstitutional invasion of the state into the internal affairs of the church.”
Holcomb told WND and Radio America, “Frankly, I can’t imagine a more unconstitutional intrusion of the state into the church than when the state starts trying to dictate to a church how it must or must not preach about its beliefs or use its worship facility. This is something that should be deeply troubling to every American.”
WND reported recently that a federal judge appointed by President Obama killed a Mississippi law hours before it was set to take effect that would have protected the religious freedom of clerks and businesses that refuse to participate in same-sex marriages.
In his 60-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves, who previously had ruled against any elements of Christianity in voluntary events to honor students, stated that the law, known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” or H.B. 1523, is unconstitutional and would “diminish the rights of LGBT citizens.”
“The state has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others,” Reeves said, according to CNN.
“HB 1523 does not advance the interest the state says it does,” he continued. “Under the guise of providing additional protection for religious exercise, it creates a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not rationally related to a legitimate end.”
State attorneys plan to appeal Reeves’ ruling, according to the Associated Press.
As WND reported, Reeves, who was nominated by Obama in 2010, once punished a school district for allowing a voluntary prayer at an optional awards ceremony.
His actions as a judge also triggered a decision to ban a school band from a halftime show at a football game because as part of its musical presentation, it included the melody from “How Great Thou Art.” Columnist Todd Starnes at Fox News said the judge may issue an order, but the people may not necessarily comply with it.
He reported the people decided “a message had to be sent to the likes of Judge Reeves.”
Message to the judge
“And what they did – would become known as the musical shot heard around the world. During halftime of Friday night’s game – a lone voice began to sing the forbidden song. ‘Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,’ the singer sang. Brittany Mann was there and she witnessed the entire moment of defiance,” Starnes wrote.
“We were just sitting there and then one by one people started to stand,” she told Starnes. “At first, it started out as a hum but the sound got louder and louder.”
Soon “hundreds” were singing.
“At that moment I was so proud of my town – coming together and taking a stand for something we believe in,” she told Starnes. “It breaks my heart to see where our country is going – getting farther and farther away from the Christian beliefs that our country was founded on.”
WND previously has documented a Big List of cases in which government rulings have removed religious rights from Christians.
Missouri State University, for example, dismissed a student from a counseling program for expressing opposition to counseling same-sex duos.
In Texas, David and Edie Delmore, who own a bakery, were approached by Ben Valencia and Luis Marmolejo about a cake for a “gay wedding.” They declined, referring the potential customers to other bakers. Subsequently, they claim their home has been vandalized and their son has been threatened with rape by a broken beer bottle.
One business even was attacked for answering a hypothetical question on the issue.
Family owned Memories Pizza in Indiana came into the crosshairs of homosexuals when an owner was interviewed by a local TV station in the aftermath of the adoption of the state’s religious freedom law. Responding to a reporter’s question, the owner said that while her restaurant serves “gays,” her Christian faith wouldn’t allow her to cater a “gay wedding.” The restaurant immediately became a focal point of outrage toward the law, with threats of death and destruction, causing the owners to shut down their business.
Not necessarily legal
In two recent cases, judges forced Christians in the workplace to violate their beliefs.
In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court left standing a lower court decision that Washington state pharmacists who are Christian must violate their faith to practice their profession, forcing them to provide abortion drugs. The second decision came from a federal judge – Reeves – who determined county clerks in the state must violate their faith to hold their office.
The Supreme Court’s move alarmed Justice Samuel Alito, who warned there was evidence that the “impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the state.”
In the Mississippi ruling, Reeves said clerks in the state cannot cite their religious beliefs to excuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to homosexual duos.
Such a dispute already had been litigated in Kentucky, where Judge David Bunning reached the same conclusion, ordering Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to violate her faith. When she declined, Bunning abruptly jailed her with no due process.
But Kentucky’s legislature simply adopted a provision protecting clerks’ religious rights, and Davis asked that the federal case be closed.
In Mississippi, however, not even action by state lawmakers was sufficient for Reeves, who ordered not only that clerks be required to provide services that violate their faith, they must be given “formal notice” of the requirement that they violate their faith.