A federal district court has ruled that churches in Iowa are not “public accommodations.” That means they are not subject to government control.
The ruling came in a case brought by Fort Des Moines Church of Christ after the Iowa Civil Rights Commission issued guidelines censoring church statements on biblical sexuality and forcing churches to open changing rooms, showers and restrooms to transgendered individuals.
“The government cannot legally censor pastors or coerce churches to use their facilities in a way that violates their religious beliefs,” said Steve O’Ban, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney. “The Iowa commission’s guidance was vague and empowered government bureaucrats far beyond what the Constitution allows. The court cut off this unconstitutional power grab by clarifying that the law does not apply to churches and reassured Iowa churches that they are free from improper state interference.”
Fort Des Moines Church of Christ will now drop its lawsuit against state officials.
The Iowa Civil Rights Act bans places of “public accommodation” from expressing a view on sexuality. Church leaders worried that it could have been used to violate freedom of speech on topics of sexuality and would leave the Civil Rights Commission in charge of deeming what was “bona fide” religious speech.
Christina Holcomb, an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney, said churches should be free to communicate their religious beliefs according to their faith without fear of government punishment.
“This lawsuit was necessary to ensure that the state won’t try to enforce the law against churches,” she said, “and we’re pleased that Iowa churches now have the reassurance and clarity that they need.”
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a California law forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion. The Reproductive FACT Act mandates that these centers make information about public programs with “free or low-cost access” to abortion and contraceptive services available to clients.
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) and two other pregnancy centers are represented by Matt Bowman, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom.
“It’s bad enough if the government tells you what you can’t say,” Bowman said, “but a law that tells you what you must say – under threat of severe punishment – is even more unjust and dangerous.
He said there will likely be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This violation of the foundational roots of the American Republic will not stand,” said Thomas Glessner, president of NIFLA told LifeNews. “There are pending legal options to pursue, and we are discussing with our attorneys our most effective options. This battle is far from over.”
A federal judge has ruled that pregnancy centers in the greater Baltimore area do not have to promote any message other than the message of life.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the City Council had moved to force the pro-life centers to post signs discouraging women from using their services and pointing them to abortion sellers.
“No government or pro-abortion group has the right to invade the privacy of national pro-life organizations,” said attorney Matt Bowman with Alliance Defending Freedom, “simply to grind an ideological axe.”
The ordinance is similar to laws now on the books in California and Illinois where Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are working to protect crisis pregnancy centers from government overreach.
“The court’s decision in this case,” Bowman said, “will provide persuasive precedent to defend free speech there and in other states. This is an important First Amendment victory.”
More than 8,900 students, parents and community members have signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold student privacy and safety.
The document concerns the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia. A female student there is asking to use the boys restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities.
“Schools have a duty to protect the privacy and safety of all students,” said Gary McCaleb, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed the brief. “Decades of court decisions have established that, in light of the right of bodily privacy, no law grants opposite-sex persons access to single-sex facilities, where the interest in privacy is obviously strongest and bodily exposure is so common.”
President Obama decreed that school districts across the nation must open the most private of facilities to anyone of either sex, by redefining the terms of Title IX in federal law. The Supreme Court has put a hold on that edict pending outcome of this case.
“Title IX’s regulations specifically authorize schools to have separate restrooms and locker rooms for boys and girls,” said Matt Sharp with ADF. “The policy accommodates students who aren’t comfortable using facilities designated for their biological sex without neglecting the established right of children to bodily privacy and safety.”
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The U.S. Supreme Court has stopped an effort to allow boys access to the girls bathrooms in a Virginia school district. At least until they can decide if they will review the Gloucester County School board’s case.
Justice Stephen Breyer said in a statement that he concurred with the four conservative justices in the 5-3 action as a “courtesy,” because the hold will “preserve the status quo.”
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of 50 concerned parents, students, grandparents and community members urging the court to reverse the lower court’s decision. Jeremy Tedesco is an ADF allied attorney.
“Schools have a duty to protect the privacy and safety of all students,” he said. “The Supreme Court did the right thing in placing the 4th Circuit panel’s mandate and the preliminary injunction entered by the district court on hold until the high court itself has a chance to decide if it will take up this case.”
Hearings are under way in the case of a California law that forces pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion. AB 775 requires licensed medical centers offering services to pregnant women to post a disclosure that California offers free or low-cost abortion and contraception services. It also forces non-medical centers to add large disclosures to all advertisements, even if they don’t provide medical services.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are in court defending the rights of pro-life centers. Matt Bowman asked a district judge to stop the law while the lawsuit proceeds. The judge refused to do so.
“It’s bad enough if the government engages in censorship and tells you what you can’t say,” he said, “but a law that tells you what you must say – under threat of severe punishment – is even more unjust and dangerous.”
Similar laws have been struck down in Texas, Maryland and New York. Bowman hopes that will ultimately be the case in California as well.
“In this case, political allies of the abortion industry are seeking to punish pro-life pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women,” he said. Forcing them to promote abortion and recite the government’s messages is a clear violation of their constitutionally protected First Amendment freedoms.”
Fifty-one families signed on to a lawsuit seeking to change a dangerous restroom policy enacted by a Chicago-area public school. It allows students to use the restroom of the gender which with they say they “identify.” It would give boys access to girls restrooms, locker rooms and showers.
Township District 211 instituted the policy after the U.S. Department of Education threatened to pull federal funding from the school. The DOE claims the school is in violation of Title IX.
“No government agency can unilaterally redefine the meaning of a federal law to serve its own political ends,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “The Department of Education is exceeding what it is legally and constitutionally allowed to do. In fact, at least five other federal and state courts have rejected the DOE’s interpretation of Title IX.”
The lawsuit asks that the policy be overturned and any agreements with the Department of Education deemed illegal. Attorneys with the Thomas More Society are serving as local counsel on the case.
“It’s a massive step backwards to force women to give up their inherent right to bodily privacy,” said Thomas More Society attorney Jocelyn Floyd. “To impose such a rule on still-developing teenage girls, as they’re already struggling with puberty’s changes on their bodies and social pressures to look a certain way, undermines their dignity and tells them that their rights don’t matter. This isn’t a message our schools should be sending to our girls.”
If government offers a program to everyone, can it reject some people specifically because they happen to be Christian? That’s exactly what happened in Missouri, and the Supreme Court will decide the legal question this year. [Ed. note: The court has moved five cases, including this one, to the next term that starts in October.]
Both sides are currently filing briefs in the case. Attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) are representing Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia that operates a preschool and daycare. It applied to a state program that surfaces playgrounds using recycled tires. But once the state realized the money would go to Christians, it turned down the request.
ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley says the children on the playground should have the same opportunities as all the other kids in Missouri.
“Children’s safety is just as important on church daycare playgrounds as it is on other daycare playgrounds,” he explained. “Excluding Trinity Lutheran from this program exhibits an undeniable hostility to religion that violates the Constitution’s essential mandate of religious neutrality.”
The church lost at the appeals court level. A victory at the Supreme would establish a precedent for all Christian organizations that seek government assistance.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed HB 1523, the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. The law means that the state cannot violate the conscience of business owners or individuals because of their views on marriage.
Our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom wrote model legislation for the bill. Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney with ADF, said people know the value of religious freedom.
“The people of Mississippi, from every demographic, support this commonsense ‘Live and Let Live’ bill, which simply affirms the freedom of all people to peacefully live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without threat of punishment from their own government,” she explained. “We commend the governor for signing into law protections for schools, churches, businesses and public employees, so they won’t face such discrimination. What makes America unique is our freedom to peacefully live out those beliefs, and the Constitution protects that freedom.”
God’s Not Dead 2 takes on one of the most pressing issues of our time – religious freedom.
In the sequel, a school teacher (played by Melissa Joan Hart), is challenged because she mentioned Jesus in answer to a student’s question. The story unfolds as she heads to court to defend her faith.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Erik Stanley defended a case in real life that served as the inspiration for one of the subplots of the film.
“The movie really illustrates the ongoing attack on Christianity in the public square, in the schools and on university campuses,” Stanley said. “And we see that every day in the number of cases that we deal with on this issue.”
In a secondary plot, pastors face pressure to turn over their sermons as part of the case. It mirrors a case he worked on involving Texas pastors who opposed a bathroom bill that allowed men access to women’s locker rooms.
“All that these pastors did was to stand up and speak out against an ordinance that they felt was immoral,” Stanley said, “and in return the city of Houston subpoenaed their sermons, their communications with their members about issues such as homosexuality — really as a message to these pastors that you better be quiet, you better not speak out.”
Grace, the main character in God’s Not Dead 2, stands firm despite intense pressure. It’s a lesson Stanley says more American Christians may have to learn.
“People might think this is sensationalized,” Stanley explained. “but Christians will have a decision to make in the coming days. Do you stand and do you fight, or do you sit down and take it? We know that more often than not, when Christians stand and fight, we win.”
The movie opens in theaters April 1.