Cary Gordon, pastor of Cornerstone World Outreach – a Christian congregation in Sioux City, Iowa -- he is in jeopardy of violating state law regarding the accommodation of persons with same-sex attractions at his church, and for adhering to age-old Judeo-Christian principles regarding marriage and sexuality. “The state of Iowa is not the self-appointed pope of all churches.” He was referring to a state law that focuses on sexual orientation and identity that he believes interferes with his First Amendment rights.
According to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, churches are places of public accommodation and thus not exempt from the law, for example, on assigning bathrooms according to sex. But Pastor Gordon says that government should stay out of religious matters. The brochure claims that the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code Chapter 216, “was expanded to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes.” It took effect in July 2007. According to the brochure, “It is now illegal in Iowa to discriminate against a person because of his/her sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The First Liberty Institute
, a law firm that defends religious freedom, is representing Pastor Gordon’s church. According to the First Liberty Institute, the state is claiming the power to control what the church teaches regarding matters of gender and sexuality, as well as regulating how the church operates their facilities. First Liberty Institute sent a demand to the State of Iowa, contending that the government is violating both the sanctity of the church and federal law. First Liberty asked the government to exempt Iowa churches from the regulation and acknowledge that the state has no authority to force a church to violate its beliefs. Another organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, is lead counsel in defending the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ.
According to the ADF website, "The state law at issue prohibits “public accommodations” from “indicating” that a person is “unwelcome” based on his or her “gender identity.” Fort Des Moines welcomes everyone; but the speech ban is so broadly written as to prohibit a pastor’s sermon about God’s design in creating each person as either male or female. The law also includes a facility use mandate that compels public accommodations to open their restrooms, locker rooms, and showers to persons based on gender identity, rather than biological sex. Even asking about a person’s gender identity in conjunction with using sex-specific facilities violates the law."
Gordon said that, according to his understanding of the law, if he cites sacred scripture relating to sexual practices and marriage, he would be in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. He told Daily Signal that he is concerned over what he calls the law’s “flagrant disrespect for the First Amendment of the Constitution, where the state retains the power to correct or control what I say and teach out of the Bible.”
If he is not in compliance with the law, Gordon said he fears that he will be treated “like a criminal” for simply preaching the Christian Gospel, which he has done as senior pastor of his church for 21 years. The law, said Gordon, is “fundamentally wrong and I can’t comply with that.” He is in a precarious position, he said, because of his allegiance to the Bible.
According to a case summary written by the First Liberty Institute, Iowa’s civil rights brochure also indicates that “the government has the authority to force churches to allow men in women’s restrooms.” Also according to a spokesperson for First Liberty Institute, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission has not made any changes in its interpretation of the law, nor does it intend to ignore the exemption for churches.
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission enforces Chapter 216 of the Iowa Code, which in part prohibits discrimination by public accommodations. The code also provides for an exemption for “Any bona fide religious institution with respect to any qualifications the institution may impose based on religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity when such qualifications are related to a bona fide religious purpose.” The law has been consistently enforced, and the exemption consistently applied, since its enactment in 2007.
A letter from the First Liberty Institute has requested that the civil rights panel publically acknowledge that Gordon’s church will be exempt from enforcement action. On July 4, a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ in Des Moines, Iowa, against members of the state Civil Rights Commission over concerns similar to those expressed by Cornerstone World Outreach. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission has by 10 a.m. Aug. 5 to respond.
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