The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced that a Christian student group, Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), on Monday filed a lawsuit in federal court against the University of Iowa after the state university kicked the group off campus for requiring their student leaders agree with their statement of faith.
The suit names Lyn Redington, the Dean of Students at the University of Iowa, Thomas Baker, the Assistant Dean of Students, and William Nelson, the executive director of the Iowa Memorial Lawsuit as the defendants.
In 2016, a student member of BLinC claimed he was denied a leadership position because he was “openly gay.” BLinC claims that accusation is false because that student said he rejected the statement of faith and would not follow it. The University of Iowa deregistered the group as a student group which means they can not participate in on-campus recruitment fairs, use campus facilities, or receive funding and benefits provided to the over 500 student groups on campus. The University determined that if BLinC wants to be re-registered, it will have to amend its Statement of Faith and submit an “acceptable plan” for selecting its leaders.
On September 1, 2017, the University told BLinC it could select leaders who affirm its beliefs, so long as those beliefs were clearly stated so students would be aware of them. But after BLinC added a statement of its religious beliefs to its campus webpage, the University responded by kicking it off campus shortly before Thanksgiving.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs’ not several student groups that have similar requirements for their leaders. They state the University is singling out their group.
For instance, there are numerous groups that expect agreement from their members. They note in the complaint:
- The University of Iowa Feminist Union limits its membership to students who “agree with [its] purposes and principles,” including support for abortion, access to contraception for minors, and even certain positions on the environment.
- Students for Life requires its members to “hold pro-life beliefs.”
- The Korean American Student Association requires members to “exhibit an optimistic attitude towards Korean culture” and reserves the right to revoke the membership of any member who “possesses a negative attitude.”
- The Association of Women Dentists requires members to support the advancement and recognition of women in dentistry.
- The Islamic organization Imam Mahdi reserves certain membership benefits, including leadership roles, to members who are Shia Muslims. The group also requires its leaders to “refrain from major sins (kaba’ir) and endeavor to avoid minor sins (saga’ir).”
- Love Works, the religious organization founded by the student who filed the complaint against BLinC, requires its executive officers to “sign and agree to the Mission and Statement of Core Beliefs of Love Works.”
- They also note that fraternities and sororities, that the University encourages students to join, discriminate on the basis of gender. The University also advertises for fraternities and sororities that affiliate on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
“This is 2017, not 1984,” Jacob Estell, the student president of BLinC, said. “Our beliefs weren’t made by us, and they can’t be changed by us either—certainly not just to satisfy Orwellian government rules.”
“This is premeditated religious discrimination, plain and simple,” Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, which is defending BLinC’s right to equal treatment by the University. “A state school cannot demand a change to students’ faith any more than the U.S. President could demand a change to the Bible.”