An Iowa Church represented by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys secured a religious liberty victory last week.
A federal judge presiding over the church's lawsuit against members of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission said the case will continue and while stopping short of issuing an injunction, declared the commission doesn't have the authority to interfere in church teachings. The concern is that the Iowa Civil Rights Act empowers government to censor a church's statements on biblical sexuality and to force churches to open their restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex.
U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose ordered the trial to continue stating, churches have never been public accommodations subject to government regulation, and state officials have no business trying to decide which church activities are religious and which ones aren't. She determined the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ's fear of prosecution was "objectively reasonable."
"At the hearing before the Court, both the State Defendants and the City stated that Plaintiff's restroom policy is likely permitted under the antidiscrimination laws because the policy is plainly drafted to serve a religious purpose and that all of the activities Plaintiff enumerated within its Complaint also appeared to be religious in nature," Rose wrote. "The Court notes that such acknowledgement does not prevent the State Defendants or the City from seeking enforcement against Plaintiff and so assigns these statements little weight."
The church's attorneys said the ruling provided much-needed reassurance and clarification to churches in the wake of two vague brochures produced by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission that applied the Iowa Civil Rights Act to churches. The commission's interpretation and application of that law, they said, could censor church statements on biblical sexuality in certain contexts and force churches to open their restrooms to members of the opposite sex under conditions that the government dictates.
"The government acts outside of its authority when it attempts to control churches," ADF Senior Counsel Steve O'Ban said. "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. As the court found, government bureaucrats don't get to decide which church activities have a religious purpose; that's for the church to decide."
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