Reuters – A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine in Irvine, California.
A church in Iowa is asking a federal court to stop the state’s civil rights commission from enforcing a law that prohibits bathroom discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) submitted the motion last week on behalf of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ in Des Moines aimed at stopping the commission “from censoring the church’s teaching on biblical sexuality and from forcing the church to open its restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex.”
A brochure issued by the commission states that places of worship like churches and synagogues “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” such as an independent day care centre or polling place that are on the premises.
But the ADF legal counsel Christiana Holcomb said, “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.”
“No state or local law should threaten the foundational First Amendment protections for free speech and the free exercise of religion,” she said.
On the same day the motion was filed, Commissioner Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, sent a letter to Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) Chairperson Angela Jackson, saying that the “approach taken by the ICRC plainly violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Iowa’s law bans places of public accommodation from expressing view on human sexuality if they would “directly or indirectly” make “persons of any particular…gender identity” feel “unwelcome,” the ADF said.
The ADF said the speech ban could be used to gag churches from making public comments including from the pulpit that could be interpreted as unwelcome to certain persons.
Under the law, transgenders can use bathrooms, locker rooms and living facilities according to their gender identity.
The ADF argues that all events held at a church on its property have bona fide religious purpose and the commission cannot violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion and speech.
“The act’s coercive demands harm the church’s ability to teach its doctrines, to govern itself, and to follow its faith without fear that the government will overstep its bounds and impose illegitimate requirements,” said ADF senior counsel Steven O’Ban.