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InterVarsity Wins Discrimination Case Against the University of Iowa

An appeals court ruled Tuesday that the University of Iowa discriminated against faith-based groups when they deregistered them for requiring leaders to be a believer in the groups' faith.

The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling and said they "are hard-pressed to find a clearer example of viewpoint discrimination" than the actions Iowa administrators took, the Associated Press reports.

The controversy began when the university kicked Business Leaders for Christ off campus because they would not allow an openly gay member to seek a leadership post. According to The Christian Post, this led Iowa to deregister other campus groups requiring leaders to affirm theological or moral statements, claiming that it violated the university’s policy on discrimination.

InterVarsity, represented by Becket, sued the university. They claimed that the school made exemptions for fraternities and sororities to only have members of one sex. They further claimed that some groups are allowed to require leaders to be of a certain race, and one group, Love Works, is allowed to require members to sign a "gay-affirming statement of the Christian faith."

Judge Jonathan Allen Kobes, writing for the three-judge panel, said, "The University's choice to selectively apply the Human Rights Policy against InterVarsity suggests a preference for certain viewpoints – like those of LoveWorks – over InterVarsity's." He continued, "The university focused its 'clean up' on specific religious groups and then selectively applied the Human Rights Policy against them. Other groups were simply glossed over or ignored."

A statement by Becket asserted that "The court warned that university officials who 'make calculated choices about enacting or enforcing [such] unconstitutional policies' should be on notice that they are not entitled to qualified immunity but instead will be held personally accountable for their actions."

"Schools are supposed to be a place of free inquiry and open thought, but the school officials here punished opinions they didn't like and promoted ones they did – all while using taxpayer dollars to do it," said Daniel Blombert, InterVarsity’s attorney.

Attorneys with the Iowa Attorney General's Office did not respond to questions from The Associated Press, but University of Iowa spokesperson Anne Bassett said the school "Respects the decision and will move forward in accordance with the decision."

Blomberg summarized the importance of the case for religious groups on college campuses, saying, "Religious groups should be able to have religious leaders. Government officials don't get to tell Christians, Muslims, or Sikhs who will lead their prayers or their worship." He concluded, "That's not just bedrock constitutional law, it's also common sense. And now the University of Iowa knows it."

Photo courtesy: Alexis Brown/Unsplash

Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”