DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa Civil Rights Commission brochure that some churches interpreted to mean they must abide by transgender bathroom rules and muzzle ministers who may want to preach against transgender or gay individuals has been changed, the commission said Friday.
The brochure, which was last updated in 2008, led a Des Moines church to file a lawsuit Monday and a Sioux City church to threaten one if the commission didn’t change its policy that the churches alleged censored them unconstitutionally.
The commission said Friday it revised the “Revised Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Public Accommodations Brochure” to make it clear places of worship are generally exempt from Iowa’s anti-discrimination law except when they’re open for voting, providing a day care facility or other non-religious activities. It also said it regretted any confusion the brochure may have caused.
The commission has never been asked to consider a complaint against a church on the transgender issue since the state’s anti-discrimination law was rewritten in 2007 to include sexual orientation and gender identity, said Kristin H. Johnson, the commission’s director.
“The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has not done anything to suggest it would be enforcing these laws against ministers in the pulpit, and there has been no new publication or statement from the ICRC raising the issue,” she said.
The Fort Des Moines Church of Christ had filed a federal lawsuit asking for an order that keeps the state and the city from enforcing any rules that would allow transgender women to use women’s bathrooms, showers or changing rooms and the same for transgender men.
The church says it teaches that “maleness or femaleness is designed by God and is tied to biology, chromosomes, physiology, and anatomy.”
The nonprofit religious legal defense organization Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the church, did not immediately respond to a message Friday about whether it would continue with the lawsuit.
The Cornerstone World Outreach Church in Sioux City said Tuesday it hired the Texas-based First Liberty Institute to help it pursue legal action if the commission refused to change its intentions by Aug. 5.
“We’re taking the state at its word that it will not encroach on the church in any way,” said Chelsey Youman, the organization’s attorney and chief of staff. “However, if it does in the future, we stand ready to use the full force of the law to protect the church’s free exercise of religion under the Constitution.”
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