Iowa’s Old Capitol Building on the University of Iowa campus.
Photo Credit: Bill Whitaker (CC-By-SA 3.0)

The University of Iowa admitted in court Friday it has a watch list of 32 groups – all religious – that it  has placed on a “probationary status.” The list just came to light in BLinC v. University of Iowa, where the university kicked Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) off campus for requiring its leaders to affirm and follow its faith. The disclosure was made in response to the court’s demand that the university identify all groups it had deregistered late last year and the reasons why.

The university’s list of the 579 registered student groups on campus highlights only the names of Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and other religious student clubs, placing them on probationary status. Yet while these religious groups were targeted, the university admitted that it still grants full registered status to dozens of secular groups, which explicitly restrict or control access to leadership or membership based on race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and U.S. military service. The watch list is the latest evidence confirming that the university has been singling out religious groups and discriminating against them.

 “For a public institution to single out religious student groups and threaten their expulsion is textbook Big Brother,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represents BLinC. “The university’s blatant double-standard and its desire to target and track religious groups in the name of ‘nondiscrimination,’ while ignoring dozens of other bigger groups who engage in more so-called ‘discrimination,’ is doublethink that would make the Ministry of Truth blush.”

The university claims that religious groups cannot even “encourage” their leaders to uphold a group’s specific faith, saying it would violate the university’s policy against religious discrimination. Yet the university allows other student groups to select leaders and members who align with each group’s mission, including fraternities, sports clubs, musical groups, advocacy organizations, political groups, and minority support groups—only flagging religious groups for monitoring. Thus, for example, the university is allowing the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, Chinese Dance Club, Chinese in Iowa City group, and Chinese Music Club to remain on campus, while the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship is threatened to be kicked off campus. 

“For an institution handing out Ph.D.’s, the university displays an embarrassing ignorance of our nation’s first liberty,” said Baxter. “The First Amendment prohibits the university from telling religious groups who can be their leaders, especially while allowing every other group on campus free reign to pick their leaders—and in many instances their members too.”

Oral argument in the case was heard in federal district court in Des Moines, Iowa on February 1, 2019. A decision is expected in the spring.

Editor’s note: Jeneane Beck, Assistant Vice President for External Relations in the Office of Strategic Communications at the University of Iowa, emailed Caffeinated Thoughts a statement from the University responding to Becket Law’s claims:

Legal counsel for BLinC and InterVarsity has blatantly misrepresented the facts and documentation submitted to the court by the University of Iowa on Friday, February 1.  All religious organizations remain in registered status while the court decides, and ultimately directs, the university on how it should address the conflict that currently exists between the First Amendment and the Iowa Civil Rights Act. 
The university agreed with counsel for BLinC and InterVarsity to place the review of religious organization constitutions on hold once the InterVarsity lawsuit was filed against the university with the understanding that plaintiffs’ counsel would not file any further lawsuits pertaining to this issue pending the decision by the court in BLinC. The university has maintained the registered status of all religious and faith-based groups allowing them full access to all benefits, funding, facilities, and resources that are offered to all other student organizations on campus. Therefore, the university has not placed any religious student organization on “probationary status” as insinuated by BLinC’s legal counsel. This is a misrepresentation of the facts and all religious organizations remain in registered status while the court decides and ultimately directs the university on how it should address the conflict that currently exists between the First Amendment and the Iowa Civil Rights Act. 
The University of Iowa does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in accordance with federal and state law.

They attached a corrected version of the student organization compliance list as the university discovered after submitting the list to the court that one religious organization, Love Works, was inadvertently miscategorized on paper. The University says it has always been treated as being one of the 33 religious student organizations in registered status and not currently under review.

It should be noted that student groups were ordered back on campus by a federal judge. The University agreed to halt a student group purge due to a second lawsuit filed by Intervarsity Christian Graduate Fellowship.

Photo Credit: Bill Whitaker (CC-By-SA 3.0)

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