Church Wants Out of Anti-Discrimination Law

     (CN) — An Iowa church wants a federal judge to give it a pass on complying with city codes and state law regarding transgender bathroom accommodations, which it claims infringes on its teachings about differences between the sexes.
     Fort Des Moines Church of Christ objects to provisions in the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the Des Moines City Code that require public places to accommodate the bathroom preferences of transgender individuals, allowing biological males who identify as female to use women’s restrooms and vice versa.
     The church, which describes itself as a nondenominational congregation, sued the City of Des Moines, members of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in Southern Iowa Federal Court on Independence Day.
     Although the Iowa Civil Rights Commission interprets the Civil Rights Act as only applying to churches “sometimes,” when they are not directly engaged in religious activities, Fort Des Moines says this distinction “grossly misunderstands” the church’s purpose.
     “Even activities the church undertakes that do not contain overt religious inculcation are religious in nature because they engender other important elements of religious meaning, expression, and purpose,” the 32-page complaint states, listing scrapbook meetings, weight loss groups and family movie nights as examples of gatherings taking place at the church that are not overtly religious.
     The lawsuit continues, “The activities the church allows in its facility must be consistent with the church’s understanding of God’s truth, and must not present a message that contradicts the church’s understanding of God’s truth.”
     Fort Des Moines embraces the belief that “God … made each person as either male or female, and that the two complementary halves of humanity—biological males and biological females—together reflect the image and nature of God,” it says.
     “Requiring the Church to allow individuals to use the facilities reserved for the opposite sex forces the Church to speak a message that it does not want to speak; namely, that sex is fluid, that it is based on subjective experience, and that God approves of biological males using restrooms and showers with females, and vice versa,” the complaint states.
     The church fears fines, costly litigation or other sanctions if it makes its bathroom policy public.
     Fort Des Moines also claims the Act’s language prohibiting speech that is “unwelcoming” to others because of their sexual orientation or gender identity infringes on its free-speech rights.
     According to the complaint, “The church’s minister desires to preach sermons addressing God’s design for human sexuality and the church’s beliefs about ‘gender identity,’ but reasonably fears that if it were to do so it would violate the Act’s and city code’s speech ban.”
     The church says it faces the choice to “either violate its deeply-held religious beliefs and self-censor its speech to avoid the Act’s sanctions, or adhere to and freely express its religious beliefs and face sanctions.”
     Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, Iowa’s leading advocacy group for LGBTQ rights, responded to the lawsuit in a statement on Tuesday.
     “Do we understand what is happening? They are suing the Iowa Civil Rights Commission for doing its job,” she said. “These protections have been with us since the 2007 amendment to the Iowa Civil Rights Act added gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes. It is important that we continue to work towards creating an inclusive environment for all Iowans.”
     Even though the law has been on the books for nine years, the church says it decided to sue now because of heavy media coverage of the federal government’s lawsuit against North Carolina for enforcing separate restrooms in schools and public facilities, President Barack Obama’s letter threatening to withdraw taxpayer support for schools in which the bathrooms do not accommodate transgender youth, and Target’s new “genderless” restroom policy.
     Fort Des Moines alleges violations of its rights to free speech, religious freedom, association and peaceable assembly, as well as due process violations.
     The church is represented by Timm Reid in Des Moines and Steven O’Ban, Erik Stanley, Jeremy Tedesco, and Christiana Holcomb with the Alliance Defending Freedom out of Washington, D.C.
     Neither the Iowa Civil Rights Commission nor Reid responded to voicemail requests for comment Wednesday morning.

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