An Iowa church has challenged the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) over its interpretation, as published in “A Public Accommodations Provider’s Guide to Iowa Law,” that churches may be included as a “public accommodation” subject to the Iowa Civil Rights Act (Act). Under this unprecedented encroachment on religious liberty, free speech, and other constitutional rights, Iowa churches and other religious organizations are now subject to liability for preaching about their sincerely held Biblical beliefs about sexuality, restricting bathroom and locker room access, and other expressions of religious beliefs.
The recently filed lawsuit, brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, seeks to strike down the law as unconstitutional in multiple respects. In quick response, the ICRC has updated its brochure with some helpful clarifications, but the underlying legal issues are still of great concern.
Background – Churches Left Alone, But Not in Iowa
As religious institutions owning private property, churches have long been able to preach, teach, and determine their facility usage in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs without government intervention. In the wake of increasing anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell same-sex marriage decision last year, however, a key legal question under state and local law has emerged: whether a church could be considered a “public accommodation” and therefore subject to such laws’ restrictions.