Pictogram of an all gender restroom at a US college. "Anyone can use this restroom regardless of gender identity or expression" Wikipedia photo by AxelBoldt

Churches, Gender Laws and the future of Community Development in our Cities

By Eric Blauer

Will churches face pressure from state and federal government to comply with gender identity based laws relating to bathroom/shower access and speech compliance?

In Iowa some churches are trying to head off a legal confrontation before it happens.

Here’s the Iowa code wording that is of particular concern to many:

“Does this law apply to churches? 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 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.”

“A church service open to the public.”

This seems to appear to apply to many situations in church and non-profit work. We ran a  refugee center with programs that didn’t involve religious proselytizing but were still under our church. Such interpretation of law could of applied to us if we received any grants, which we didn’t and if we were a 501c3, we are not. So it doesn’t look like it would apply to us but the issue is a concern to me for others that I know do.

The general argument I have seen from the cut off the Fed funds folks, has been about the issue of tax exempt status of churches and the services they provide. It’s the link that the Obama Administration has been using to back up his stance that federal money will be in jeopardy if  theres no compliance to their interpretations of gender laws.

Drake University law professor Maura Strassberg said sermons that stick to human sexuality matters pertaining to theology would be constitutionally protected. But she suggested situations could arise where a preacher’s remarks could cross over the line into harassment.

“There is a line: You can go from, ‘This is what God believes’ … to ‘You are bad, so we don’t want you here,'” Strassberg said. “As a church, they can believe whatever they want. In their bona fide religious activities, they are exempt. They cannot, however, break the law when providing public accommodations.”

Setting up oversight boards to judge if churches or other religious groups are saying the right things is as Orwellian as it gets.

As state control increases, churches and ministers are making choices about revoking tax exemption status to avoid the increasing over-reach of government. The call for churches to get out of marriage officiating in any legal capacity is one backlash. Now the call to get out of community development, social services and non-profit education and service is next. If you cut or control the religious organizations, you set in motion a ongoing back out of their community work. The impact of such a squeeze will be felt in every city where religious institutions are providing most of the services for the poor, addicted, sick and undereducated.

Some may object by referring the disclaimer in the publication that says the, “guidance document is designed for general educational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice.”

I can assure you, many ministers and Christians, do not think such a disclaimer is a bulwark against the ongoing push to erode free speech or practice of religion.

The hard left says they are the leading advocates for the poor and marginalized but they are unleashing a significant shuttering of the access to, and quality of, services available to these populations in the future.

These laws will continue to be challenged and with Supreme Court nominations and retirements in the future, it’s going to be a heated issue for the next administration.

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