Amending a church's right to remain a church

Monday, July 18, 2016
Charlie Butts (

gavel with Bible 2Attorneys representing two Iowa church congregations are pressing forward with a lawsuit that takes on the state's civil rights commission.

Churches in the Hawkeye State took notice when the Iowa Civil Rights Commission released a controversial brochure describing public accommodation rights for homosexuals and transgenders under the state's Civil Rights Act.

In particular, a portion of the brochure declares that churches are exempt from discriminating against homosexuals only if they are engaging in a "bona fide religious purpose."

But what is a "bona fide religious purpose" according to the commission? And does the commission have the legal right to define that term?

Amid public backlash and two lawsuits, the commission says it made changes to the brochure. But those changes aren't enough, say attorneys.

"Cosmetic changes to one brochure won't fix the unconstitutionality of the Iowa Civil Rights Act," says Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christiana Holcomb.  

Until that law is fixed, she says, "Churches in Iowa have a right to be concerned."

In a bit of damage control, the commission responded to the lawsuit by announcing it was revising the brochure and "regretted any confusion that brochure may have caused," The Des Moines Register reported.

The news story story explained:

The commission said Friday it revised the "Revised Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Public Accommodations Brochure" to make it clear places of worship are generally exempt from Iowa's antidiscrimination law except when they're open for voting, providing a day care facility or other non-religious activities.

wedding rings on Bible 620x300In a press release, however, ADF says the public accommodation law suggests a church could face legal action if it makes homosexuals or transgenders feel "unwelcome." ADF fears that law could be used to stop church pastors - even from the pulpit - from condemning homosexuality.

OneNewsNow first reported on the brochure and the lawsuit in a July 5 story in which ADF said it's suing before the commission takes action against churches, a legal maneuver known as a "pre-enforcement challenge." 

Citing an earlier Register story, ONN noted that a homosexual activist and a law professor both suggest that Iowa churches are legally bound to follow the public accomodation law, even for "bona fide" churches services.

ADF filed suit on behalf of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ and First Liberty Institute is representing Cornerstone World Outreach Church, located in Sioux City. 

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