Churches challenge gender identity rulings, law in Iowa

DES MOINES — The Des Moines Register reported on Tuesday that two churches are challenging a decision by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and a non-discrimination ordinance in Des Moines with a lawsuit in federal court.

The Fort Des Moines Church of Christ in Des Moines and Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City say that the commission is violating their rights to free speech and religious liberty by censoring their views on human sexuality and forcing them to open restrooms to members of the opposite sex.

The Register reported that Iowa Legislature prohibited discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in 2007. Kristin Johnson, director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, told the newspaper that state officials have consistently enforced the law. She noted that state code provides some exemptions for bona fide religious institutions engaged in activities with a bona fide religious purpose.

The federal lawsuit also names the city of Des Moines as a defendant because of a city ordinance that is nearly identical to a state law prohibiting discrimination by public accommodations, the newspaper reported.

One Iowa, the statewide LGBT rights organization responded with a statement on Tuesday.

“Do we understand what is happening? They are suing the Iowa Civil Rights Commission for doing its job,” said One Iowa executive director Donna Red Wing. “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. As a church, they can believe whatever they want. In their bona fide religious activities they are exempt.  They cannot, however, break the law when providing public accommodations.”