Government claims power to control content of sermons
The lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ is part of a nationwide battle against the implementation of President Obama’s declared foreign-policy priority in his final year in office: “gay” rights.”
At issue in the Iowa case are state mandates that protect “transgender rights.” Among them are allowing men to enter women’s shower rooms, dressing rooms and restrooms if they say they are women, and banning statements in meetings “open to the public” that “might cause individuals to believe that they are unwelcome because of their perceived gender identity”
The lawsuit charges the mandates violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections for free speech, religion, expressive association, due process and the right to peaceably assemble.
Named as defendants are commission members Angela Jackson, Patricia Lipski, Mathew Hosford, Tom Conley, Douglas Oelschaleger, Lily Lijun Hou and Lawrence Cunningham, and city of Des Moines Executive Director Kristen Johnson and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
The commission did not respond to a WND request for comment.
The complaint, filed this week, is clear.
“This is a civil rights action to stop the commissioners and the executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the Iowa attorney general, and the city of Des Moines from compelling an Iowa church to communicate government messages to which it objects and from forcing the church to use its building in violation of its religious beliefs.”
It explains the commission believes its interpretation of state law allows it “to force churches to allow individuals access to church restrooms, shower facilities, and changing rooms based on his or her gender identity, irrespective of biological sex.”
The commission’s interpretation was made clear in a guidance released in response to the question of whether or not the transgender-discrimination requirements apply to churches.
“Sometimes,” the commission said, “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).”
Explained the complaint, “The commission’s interpretation grossly misunderstands the religious purposes and beliefs of Plaintiff Fort Des Moines Church of Christ.”
The church holds worship, religious services, Sunday School classes, Bible studies, youth-oriented activities, annual vacation Bible schools, Easter activities, Christmas pageants and other ministry events based on its religious beliefs.
“As a result, there are messages, practices, and activities that the church would not sponsor, host, or otherwise communicate because those messages, practices, and activities would violate the church’s understanding of God’s truth. The activities that the church allows in its facility must be consistent with the church’s understanding of God’s truth, and must not present a message that contradicts the church’s understand of God’s truth.”
As “biology, chromosomes, physiology, and anatomy” all give evidence of the “maleness or femaleness … designed by God,” the church believes it must provide for the “immutable trait from which springs the natural and healthy desires for physical privacy and modesty in states of partial or full undress, such as in restrooms, showers, and changing rooms.”
Not only does the commission’s “open restrooms” mandate violate the church’s rights, “the language of the act and the city code are broad enough to include within that prohibition sermons, theological expositions, educational speeches, newsletters or church worship bulletin text, or other statements from the church and its leaders.”
“The church’s minister desires to preach sermons addressing God’s design for human sexuality and the church’s beliefs about ‘gender identity,’ but reasonably fears that if it were to do so it would violate the act’s and the city code’s speech ban,” the complaint explains.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions “restraining all defendants … from enforcing or applying” the law to the church. A final resolution would be a declaratory judgment stating the application of the mandates to churches violates the Constitution.
ADF explained that “all events” at the church have a “bona fide religious purpose.”
The organization explained: “The speech ban could be used to gag churches from making any public comments – including from the pulpit – that could be viewed as unwelcome to persons who do not identify with their biological sex. This is because the commission says the law applies to churches during any activity that the commission deems to not have a ‘bona fide religious purpose.’”
The following is a WND/Radio America interview with ADF legal counsel Christiana Holcomb on the issue:
Holcomb said churches “should be free to teach their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship according to their faith without being threatened by the government.”
“That is a foundational First Amendment principle,” she said. “Churches have always been protected from government intrusion, and they still are. They have a firmly established freedom to teach their beliefs and set internal policies that reflect their biblical teachings about marriage and human sexuality. One can hardly imagine a more obvious unconstitutional invasion of the state into the internal affairs of the church.”
Holcomb told WND and Radio America, “Frankly, I can’t imagine a more unconstitutional intrusion of the state into the church than when the state starts trying to dictate to a church how it must or must not preach about its beliefs or use its worship facility. This is something that should be deeply troubling to every American.”
WND reported Friday that a federal judge appointed by President Obama killed a Mississippi law – hours before it was set to take effect – that would have protected the religious freedom of clerks and businesses that refuse to participate in same-sex marriages.
In his 60-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves, who previously had ruled against any elements of Christianity in voluntary events to honor students, stated that the law, known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” or H.B. 1523, is unconstitutional and would “diminish the rights of LGBT citizens.”
“The state has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others,” Reeves said, according to CNN.
“HB 1523 does not advance the interest the state says it does,” he continued. “Under the guise of providing additional protection for religious exercise, it creates a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not rationally related to a legitimate end.”
State attorneys plan to appeal Reeves’ ruling, according to the Associated Press.
As WND reported, Judge Carlton Reeves, who was nominated by Obama in 2010, once punished a school district for allowing a voluntary prayer at an optional awards ceremony.
His actions as a judge triggered a decision to ban a school band from a halftime show at a football game because as part of its musical presentation, it included the melody from “How Great Thou Art.” Columnist Todd Starnes at Fox News said the judge may issue an order, but the people may not necessarily bend to his whim.
He reported the people decided “a message had to be sent to the likes of Judge Reeves.”
Message to the judge
“And what they did – would become known as the musical shot heard around the world. During halftime of Friday night’s game – a lone voice began to sing the forbidden song. ‘Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,’ the singer sang. Brittany Mann was there and she witnessed the entire moment of defiance,” Starnes wrote.
“We were just sitting there and then one by one people started to stand,” she told Starnes. “At first, it started out as a hum but the sound got louder and louder.”
Soon “hundreds” were singing.
“At that moment I was so proud of my town – coming together and taking a stand for something we believe in,” she told Starnes. “It breaks my heart to see where our country is going – getting farther and farther away from the Christian beliefs that our country was founded on.”
WND previously has documented a Big List of cases in which government rulings have removed religious rights from Christians.
Missouri State University, for example, dismissed a student from a counseling program for expressing opposition to counseling same-sex duos.
In Texas, David and Edie Delmore, who own a bakery, were approached by Ben Valencia and Luis Marmolejo about a cake for a “gay wedding.” They declined, referring the potential customers to other bakers. Subsequently, they claim their home has been vandalized and their son has been threatened with rape by a broken beer bottle.
One business even was attacked for answering a hypothetical question on the issue.
Family owned Memories Pizza in Indiana came into the crosshairs of homosexuals when an owner was interviewed by a local TV station in the aftermath of the adoption of the state’s religious freedom law. Responding to a reporter’s question, the owner said that while her restaurant serves “gays,” her Christian faith wouldn’t allow her to cater a “gay wedding.” The restaurant immediately became a focal point of outrage toward the law, with threats of death and destruction, causing the owners to shut down their business.
Not necessarily legal
In two recent cases, judges forced Christians in the workplace to violate their beliefs.
In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court left standing a lower court decision that Washington state pharmacists who are Christian must violate their faith to practice their profession, forcing them to provide abortion drugs. The second decision came from a federal judge – Reeves – who determined county clerks in the state must violate their faith to hold their office.
The Supreme Court’s move alarmed Justice Samuel Alito, who warned there was evidence that the “impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the state.”
In the Mississippi ruling, Reeves said clerks in the state cannot cite their religious beliefs to excuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to homosexual duos.
Such a dispute already had been litigated in Kentucky, where Judge David Bunning reached the same conclusion, ordering Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to violate her faith. When she declined, Bunning abruptly jailed her with no due process.
But Kentucky’s legislature simply adopted a provision protecting clerks’ religious rights, and Davis asked that the federal case be closed.
In Mississippi, however, not even action by state lawmakers was sufficient for Reeves, who ordered not only that clerks be required to provide services that violate their faith, they must be given “formal notice” of the requirement that they violate their faith.