Pastor Cary Gordon is the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone World Outreach, a non-denominational, Bible-based church in Sioux City, Iowa. Pastor Gordon has served as a pastor of the church for over 21 years, leading the church as it ministers to the community, including through an inner-city outreach to children.
Recently, Pastor Gordon discovered that the Iowa Civil Rights Commission had published a brochure claiming that the state has the power to control what the church teaches regarding matters of gender and sexuality, as well as regulating how they operate their facilities.
“I am a father of five, and I am deeply concerned that the State of Iowa would try to tell us, as a church, what we can teach about matters of sexuality and how we are allowed to ensure the safety and privacy of our children,” Pastor Gordon says.
In a brochure entitled “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – A Public Accommodations Provider’s Guide to Iowa Law,” The Iowa Civil Rights Commission (CRC) published a brochure claiming that churches are considered places of public accommodation and they generally are not exempted from the state’s sexual orientation and gender identity law. Read the brochure.
The CRC claims that if churches express biblical views on sexuality and this causes people to feel “unwelcome” due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, it qualifies as “harassment” and “discrimination.” Through this interpretation of the law, churches could be prosecuted by the government for giving sermons expressing scriptural beliefs about God’s design for human sexuality. The CRC’s brochure also indicates that the government has the authority to force churches to allow men in women’s restrooms.
On July 5, First Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to the Iowa CRC on behalf of Cornerstone World Outreach Church. In the letter, they asked the CRC to retract earlier statements claiming it has the authority to interfere with churches’ doctrine and operation. First Liberty attorneys said it was the first time a church had taken this type of legal action against the government over a sexual orientation and gender identity law. Read the demand letter.
“This is a clear case of the state violating the sanctity of the church. It should send chills down the spine of every congregation in Iowa,” Chelsey Youman, Chief of Staff & Counsel for First Liberty Institute, said at the time the letter was sent. “The State of Iowa claims it has the power to regulate what churches can teach about human sexuality and how they operate their facilities. The government has absolutely no authority to force a church to violate its religious beliefs. This is a massive violation of the First Amendment.”
In the demand letter, First Liberty attorneys contended that the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) forbid the government from interfering with a church’s doctrine or telling a church what it may preach or how it should be run.
First Liberty attorneys concluded the letter by asking the CRC to grant Cornerstone Church a full exemption from the regulation and to promise, in writing, they would not enforce the law against the church by August 4. If not, the attorneys said they were prepared to pursue “all available legal options.”
Three days later on July 8, the CRC responded with a press release stating that a revised version of the brochure had been published, clarifying that “religious activities by a church are exempt from the Iowa Civil Rights Act.”
“We’re taking the state at its word that it will not encroach on the church in any way,” Youman said. “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.”
“I accept the Iowa Civil Right Commission’s public apology, with clear reservations,” Pastor Gordon said in response to the CRC’s press release. “We will continue to monitor their activities and stand ready to defend all churches at any time.”
For Immediate Release: July 8, 2016
Contact: Kassie Dulin, email@example.com
Cell: 214-542-4334, Direct: 972-941-4575
STATE OF IOWA RESPONDS TO FIRST LIBERTY DEMAND LETTER ON BEHALF OF IOWA CHURCH
SIOUX CITY, IA — Today, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (CRC) issued a response to a demand letter First Liberty sent three days ago on behalf of an Iowa church. Read the Iowa CRC press release
“We’re taking the state at its word that it will not encroach on the church in any way,” Chelsey Youman, Counsel and Chief of Staff for First Liberty Institute, says. “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.”
“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,” Cary Gordon, Senior Pastor of Cornerstone World Outreach for over 21 years, says.
Read more about the case and access a copy of First Liberty’s demand letter at FirstLiberty.org/CornerstoneChurch
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About First Liberty Institute – First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans. Read more at FirstLiberty.org.
To arrange an interview, contact Kassie Dulin, Director of Legal Communications for First Liberty Institute. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Direct: 972-941-9575, Cell: 214-542-4334.
To download this press release, please click here.