The Iowa Civil Rights Commission and the First Amendment

I saw in my Facebook feed this week that one of my Facebook friends Pastor Michael Demastus and his church, the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ have filed a lawsuit against the commissioners of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission among others. The suit is over a church’s right to

… to stop the government 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.

I should probably toss in a disclaimer here, in 2010 I applied to serve on the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. When it was made clear to me that the Democratic leadership in the Iowa Senate would fight my confirmation, I withdrew my application.  One of my friends, knowing that I am very involved in Iowa politics sent me an email about the lawsuit asking for my opinion. My friend sent me link to a Fox News article and the following quote:

Does this law apply to churches? Sometimes.  Iowa law provides that these protections do not apply to religious institutions with respect to any religion-based qualifications when such qualifications are related to bona fide religious purpose. Where qualifications are not related to a bona fide religious purpose, churches are still subject to the law’s provisions. (e.g. a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public.

I have to admit that I did not read the article before responding. I had already been reading about the suit so I looked at the quote he sent. I quickly replied:

I am not sure where the examples in the e.g. came from. I have trouble believing that the Iowa Civil Rights Commission used the language ‘church service open to the public’  as an example of something other than a bona fide religious purpose.

I was certain that he was quoting someone’s opinion. The idea that a church service open to the public could be considered anything other than a bona fide religious purpose seemed absurd. It must be hyperbole on the part of Pastor Demastus or his allies. Imagine my surprise when I found  the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s pamphlet online, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, A Public Accommodations Provider’s Guide to Iowa Law.

The text my friend had sent was a direct quote from the pamphlet! While churches in Iowa are exempt from this law with respect to any religion-based qualifications when such qualifications are related to a bona fide religious purpose the problem is that the Iowa Civil Rights Commission is the one that gets to decide what qualifies as a bona fide religious purpose. The pamphlet suggests that a church service open to the public is somehow not a bona fide religious purpose!

Public church services are core to the mission of churches of nearly every denomination. Considering this along with the definition of harassment from the pamphlet, it is very likely that my pastor in our public services and I as a Bible teacher in our adult Sunday School have both been in violation of Iowa law.

We have long been asked, “what do you have to fear from granting special rights to homosexuals?”


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