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

Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), who sued the University of Iowa after they were kicked off campus in the fall of 2017 for requiring their leaders to agree with their statement of faith, claimed a victory in federal district court on Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose found that the University of Iowa engaged in religious discrimination in the way it applied it’s Human Rights Policy to Registered Student Organizations (RSO).

“Defendants admit the University allows some RSOs “exceptions” to the Human Rights Policy “for compelling reasons which support the educational and social purposes of the forum.” … There is no triable issue of fact as to that admission. Even if administrative oversight accounts for some groups’ violations of the Human Rights Policy, it does not diminish the legal significance of the fact that the University deliberately exempted other groups from the policy. Also, the University reviewed all RSO constitutions in 2018, and there remain groups that limit membership or leadership based on characteristics protected under the policy. Although facially neutral, the Human Rights Policy is not neutrally applied,” Rose wrote in her opinion.

She stated that “undisputed evidence” shows the University allows some groups exceptions.

“The University allows Love Works to limit leadership to individuals who share its religious beliefs on homosexuality. But BLinC may not. It allows groups, such as Hawkapellas and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, to limit leadership based on protected traits in violation of the Human Rights Policy. But BLinC may not. That is viewpoint discrimination,” Rose wrote.

The University of Iowa has claimed it did suspend Love Works’ status as an RSO. Rose responded in her ruling that it doesn’t matter. “To the extent the University has in fact suspended Love Works’ registered status pending the outcome of this litigation—a proposition that is not supported by the record—the Court finds the University’s viewpoint discrimination is established where Defendants acknowledge other groups can impose leadership restrictions based on characteristics protected under the Human Rights Policy,” she observed.

Rose also found that the University of Iowa violated BLinC’s First Amendment rights to free speech, expressive association, and free exercise of religion.

“The Court is also not convinced that revoking BLinC’s registration was narrowly tailored to promote the University’s stated interests in its RSO program and Human Rights Policy. Rather than burden BLinC’s constitutional rights, the University could, for example, neutrally and consistently apply its Human Rights Policy,” she wrote.

Concluding her ruling, Rose stated, “(T)he Constitution does not tolerate the way Defendants chose to enforce the Human Rights Policy. Particularly when free speech is involved, the uneven application of any policy risks the most exacting standard of judicial scrutiny, which Defendants have failed to withstand.”

BLinC expressed gratitude for Rose’s ruling.

“We are grateful the court protected our rights today—to let us have the same rights as all student groups to express our viewpoints freely on campus and to be who we are,” said BLinC’s Jake Estell. “This victory reinforces the commonsense idea that universities can’t target religious student groups for being religious.”

BLinC’s attorney celebrated the victory.

“The university wanted a license to discriminate, and Judge Rose said no way,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represents BLinC. “This ruling is a win for basic fairness, but it is also an eloquent plea for civility in how governments treat Americans in all their diversity. As a governmental body bound by the First Amendment, the university should have never tried to get into the game of playing favorites in the first place, and it is high time for it to stop now.”

University spokesperson Jeneane Beck told Caffeinated Thoughts that they are reviewing the ruling and will follow the court order.

A second related lawsuit, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship v. University of Iowa, is pending before Judge Rose, and will be decided later this year.

Read the ruling:

Photo Credit: Louis (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

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