A small Iowa church has entered a legal battle with the state government over what the congregation considers censorship of biblical teaching on human sexuality.
The dispute began with a brochure published by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission about state law’s protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The document explained how the law applies to places of public accommodation—and included churches among places such as restaurants and hotels.
In the brochure, the state agency interpreted the Iowa Civil Rights Act “to apply to churches anytime that they hold worship services that are open to the public, as all worship services are,” Christiana Holcomb, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Daily Signal.
The Christian legal aid group represents Fort Des Moines Church of Christ. It filed a federal lawsuit July 4 on behalf of the church, located in the state capital of Des Moines.
As defendants, the suit names officials at the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the attorney general of Iowa, and the city of Des Moines.
“No American, no citizen, has to wait for the government to enforce an unconstitutional law against them,” Holcomb said.
The commission’s interpretation of the civil rights law “does basically two things,” Holcomb told The Daily Signal:
One, it tells the church that you’re not allowed to teach or do anything, including what a pastor preaches from the pulpit, if it would make anyone feel uncomfortable based on their gender identity. A logical extension of that would mean that a pastor couldn’t preach about God’s design for human sexuality and biological sex.
The second component … is that a church that holds a worship service open to the public would no longer be allowed to have sex-designated sensitive areas like restrooms and locker rooms and shower and changing facilities.
‘Able to Choose What We Believe’
Alliance Defending Freedom’s motion for a preliminary injunction, filed July 14, asks a federal court to stop the state commission from using the law against the church while the lawsuit progresses.
Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, pastored by Michael Demastus, believes and teaches that God created each person either male or female, the lawsuit says.
“We can agree or disagree with what Fort Des Moines Church of Christ believes about the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation, and that’s fine,” Holcomb said. “In a diverse marketplace of ideas, we should each be able to choose what we believe.”
“But the real problem in Iowa is … you have a government trying to come in and dictate to a church what it believes and how it uses its house of worship.”