SIOUX CITY | A Sioux City church has become the second in Iowa this week to challenge an Iowa Civil Rights Commission position on gender identity protections that the church believes infringe on religious freedom.
Cornerstone World Outreach, located at 1625 Glen Ellen Road, has enlisted the aid of First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal firm dedicated to faith-based cases, to write to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission asking it to retract wording in one of its brochures.
Cornerstone's action comes on the heels of a federal suit filed Monday by attorneys with a separate legal organization, the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, on behalf of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ.
The commission brochure in question outlines the state’s sexual orientation and gender identity law as it relates to public accommodation providers, which the brochure says "sometimes" include churches.
Chelsey Youman, First Liberty's chief of staff and counsel, said classifying churches as public places could potentially cause government interference with pastors' free speech regarding sex and gender issues, as well as require them to allow restroom usage based on gender identification. She said it could potentially affect the worship of many faiths.
"It’s really, really egregious," Youman said. "We don't think it would be advisable to wait and hope and pray you don't get sued by your government."
In its letter sent Tuesday, First Liberty requested the commission amend the brochure in order to clarify that Cornerstone is exempt from the code. It also requested a public acknowledgement of Cornerstone's exemption.
If the conditions are not met by Aug. 5, the letter says, attorneys are prepared to pursue "all available legal remedies."
"In an ideal world, we would have the CRC clarify that churches are not places of public accommodation just because they have a public worship service," Youman said.
The portion of the brochure at issue with both Cornerstone and Fort Des Moines Church of Christ is part of a Q-and-A section that addresses whether the law applies to churches.
The brochure answers by saying: "Sometimes. 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 a 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)."
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's office issued a statement earlier this week that no cases dealing with Iowa churches have even been brought to the state's civil rights commission. The Iowa law has been in place since 2007.