Old Capitol at the University of Iowa
Photo Credit: Louis (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

(Davenport, IA) Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), who sued the University of Iowa after they were kicked off campus last fall for requiring their leaders to agree with their statement of faith, claimed a victory in federal district court yesterday. After hearing oral arguments in the case last week, U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose ordered that the University of Iowa reinstate BLinC as a student group in order to participate in a student recruitment fair today. She also gave the University 90 days to bring its policy enforcement into compliance with the law.

BLinC argued that the University is violating the First Amendment by penalizing it for its religious viewpoint, pointing out that the student who complained about BLinC’s beliefs started his own organization that espouses the exact opposite perspective. The Free Speech, Free Exercise, and Establishment Clauses all prohibit the University from discriminating against religious viewpoints.

“(T)he Court must conclude on the current record that BLinC has shown that the University does not consistently and equally apply its Human Rights Policy,” Rose wrote in her decision granting BLinC an injunction.”

“In light of this selective enforcement, the Court finds BLinC has established the requisite fair chance of prevailing on the merits of its claims under the Free Speech Clause,” she added.

Rose also noted BLinC will suffer irreparable harm if not offered an injunction. “Because BLinC will likely suffer a loss of First Amendment freedoms, including its freedoms of speech and expressive association, the Court concludes BLinC has shown it will be irreparably harmed absent an injunction,” she wrote.

“The University would never let Iowa State’s Cy the Cardinal lead the Hawkeyes,” said Jacob Estell, BLinC student president. “So why would it think it is okay to force religious student groups to select leaders who don’t embrace their mission?”

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.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty stated in a press release yesterday that membership in BLinC is open to all University students and, to preserve its mission, BLinC asks only its leaders to affirm that they embrace and seek to live by its religious beliefs.

“The Court agreed that the University has to stop discriminating against BLinC because of its religious beliefs,” Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, which represents BLinC, said. “Every other group on campus gets to select leaders who embrace their mission. Religious groups don’t get second-class treatment.”

A decision whether to permanently allow BLinC to stay on campus and pick leaders who embrace its faith is expected sometime later this year.

Note: Listen to our podcast interview with Daniel Blomberg, one of the Becket attornies assigned to the BLinC case.

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