Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Court Denies Preliminary Injunction In Church's Challenge To State Transgender Nondiscrimination Laws

In Fort Des Moines Church of Christ v. Jackson, (SD IA, Oct. 14, 2016), an Iowa federal district court refused to issue a preliminary injunction to bar enforcement against a church of  provisions of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the Des Moines City Code.  The laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation. Both statutes exempt religious acts of religious institutions.  The church sued after the Iowa Civil Rights Commission issued a guide stating that the anti-discrimination provisions may apply to non-religious activities of a church that are open to the public. The church wants to publicize on its website and in its church bulletin its policy of limiting its rest rooms on the basis of anatomy as identified at birth or by one's original birth certificate.  The policy includes the following rationale:
This policy is consistent with and required by God’s Word, which sets forth the distinctiveness, complementariness and immutability of the male sex and female sex as Jesus Christ himself taught in Matthew 19:4. God’s Word also teaches that physical privacy and personal modesty spring from the physical conditions and unique characteristics of the sexes.
While refusing to dismiss the lawsuit, the court also denied a preliminary injunction because plaintiff is unlikely to succeed on the merits. The court rejected plaintiff's vagueness challenge, and rejected its as-applied free speech challenge because it is unlikely that the laws would ever apply to plaintiff's activities. All of the activities the church indicated it engaged in were religious in nature.  The court rejected plaintiff's free exercise challenge because the anti-discrimination provisions are neutral laws of general applicability. (See prior related posting.)