A federal court is being asked to issue a permanent order against the University of Iowa to treat all student organizations equally.
The university claims local and state non-discrimination laws trump the U.S. Constitution, giving it a right to ban Christian groups from campus.
At issue is a clash of the rights recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in the same-sex marriage case with the First Amendment protection for the practice of religion.
The University of Iowa banned a student group called Business Leaders in Christ for refusing to allow a student living an openly homosexual lifestyle be a “Christian leader.”
The school argued the student club’s claim of “viewpoint discrimination” is trumped by its “human rights” policy.
“Defendants attempted to resolve a seemingly unresolvable conflict in order to protect the university’s mission and compelling interests in securing the civil rights of minority students and upholding the First and Fourteenth Amendments, while continuing to value discourse, education, and the marketplace of ideas,” it said.
The university required that all Christian and other faith-based student organizations include in their bylaws or constitutions a statement affirming the homosexual agenda, allowing homosexuals even to be leaders.
The school demanded clubs provide for “qualifications for leaders which protected the rights of non-heterosexuals.”
When the club proposed a statement of faith that said in part: “We believe God’s intention for a sexual relationship is to be between a husband and a wife in the lifelong gcovenant of marriage. Every other sexual relationship beyond this is outside of God’s design and is not in keeping with God’s original plan for humanity. We believe that every person should embrace, not reject, their God-given sex.”
But the university refused to allow it.
Iowa eventually dismissed dozens of faith-based student groups.
Now, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, through lawyers with Becket, has filed in federal court a motion for partial summary judgment.
“After the University of Iowa admitted in court that it discriminates against religious student groups, the InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship asked a federal court … to permanently require equal treatment for all organizations,” the organization explained in its announcement.
The InterVarsity case arose after the additional student religious groups were purged by the university last summer for asking their leaders to affirm their respective faiths, the legal team said.
Among those facing punishment over their beliefs were the Sikh Awareness Club, Chinese Student Christian Fellowship, Imam Mahdi organization and Latter-day Saint Student Association.
But the filing cited the school’s admissions that it provides “many exceptions” to its nondiscrimination policies for “various” clubs, allowing “apparent violations” and its entire fraternity and sorority community to discriminate based on sex.
“In the name of non-discrimination, the University of Iowa discriminated against more than a dozen diverse religious groups–including Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs,” said Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at Becket, which represents InterVarsity. “That’s Orwellian. Real diversity requires real differences. The university has – quite rightly – long respected the differences inherent in Greek groups, sports clubs, and ideological groups. The First Amendment requires the university to do the same for religious groups.”
InterVarsity welcomes all students as participants but requires leaders to follow its Christian faith.
WND reported in August when the school decided to allow the student groups to continue their presence on campus pending the outcome of the legal fight.
In its defense, the school has argued that it has allowed “apparent violations” on its Human Rights Policy to exist “for reasons which support the university’s educational mission.”
The school claims it can censor speech in its “limited public forum” by targeting “blatant rejection of gay and transgender students.”
At Inside Higher Ed, writer Emma Whitford noted the school’s reaction when it was “caught” discriminating.
“To show that it hasn’t discriminated against a Christian student organization, the University of Iowa is withdrawing recognition from dozens of students groups.”
The judge in the case has raised her own questions about what role the Christian club’s “viewpoint” played in the school decision.