Iowa Civil Rights Commission (CRC) officials issued a response to a demand letter sent by national legal entity First Liberty Institute earlier this week on behalf of Cornerstone World Outreach church in Iowa. The question being debated was whether religious activities by a church are exempt from the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
"I accept the Iowa Civil Right Commission's public apology, with clear reservations. We will continue to monitor their activities and stand ready to defend all churches at any time," said Cary Gordon, senior pastor of Cornerstone World Outreach.
As reported by The Gospel Herald, representatives of the church filed a 32-page lawsuit against the Iowa CRC, charging the church's freedom of religion was being violated with the commission's interpretation of the 2007 Iowa Civil Rights Act, known as Iowa Code Chapter 216. The lawsuit came after commission staffers released a brochure, titled "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity - A Public Accommodations Provider's Guide to Iowa Law," stating that churches are public accommodations, and therefore generally subject to the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
On Friday, Iowa CRC representatives announced they had produced a revised Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Public Accommodations brochure. In a news release, Iowa CRC stated the revised publication replaces the previous version, which had not been updated since 2008 and clarifies that religious activities by a church are exempt from the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
"The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has never considered a complaint against a church or other place of worship on this issue," said director Kristin Johnson.
"This statute was amended to add these protected classes (sexual orientation and gender identity) in 2007 and has been in effect since then. 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. The Commission regrets the confusion caused by the previous publication."
"We're taking the state at its word that it will not encroach on the church in any way," said Chelsey Youman, First Liberty Institute counsel 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 and free speech under the Constitution."
In the 32-page lawsuit, the church representatives claimed the commission was forcing places of worship to censor their teachings on Biblical sexuality by demanding they open their restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex.