Christian student group takes university to court after being banned over leadership policy

School mascot Herky the Hawk stands in front of the Old Capitol Museum at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, Iowa, U.S. May 22, 2016.
School mascot Herky the Hawk stands in front of the Old Capitol Museum at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, Iowa, U.S. May 22, 2016. | (Photo: REUTERS/Koh Gui Qing)

A Christian student group will take the University of Iowa to court over a school policy that mandates that the group must allow leaders who do not conform to their beliefs.

Business Leaders in Christ filed a lawsuit against the university in 2017, claiming that their student group leadership rules unlawfully forced them to compromise their leadership standards.

Oral arguments will be heard in the case of BLinC v. University of Iowa in United States district court in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, Jan. 30.  

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The law firm Becket, which is representing BLinC, said in a statement released earlier this week that their client is seeking “permanent protection from the university’s religious discrimination.”

“… the University of Iowa kicked Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) off campus and told it to ‘revise’ its Statement of Faith and submit an 'acceptable plan' for selecting leaders if it wanted a place on campus,” stated Becket. “Meanwhile, the university allows several student groups – such as fraternities and sororities, sports clubs, feminist groups, pro-life groups, and advocacy groups – to enforce leader and membership restrictions.”

In December 2017, BLinC filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Iowa, accusing the school of discriminating against them by kicking them off campus for expecting leaders to sign a statement of faith that included avoiding “sexual immorality.”

According to the suit, in 2016 a student complained that he was denied a leadership position because he was "openly gay." BLinC denied the student's claim, responding that he was denied over his rejection of their statement of faith.

A university investigation was launched. Lyn Redington, the university’s dean of students, ruled in November 2017 that the group’s revised constitution "does not satisfy the requirements delineated in order for BLinC to remain as a registered student organization in good standing."

Specifically, Redington argued that the student group’s policy had the “effect of disqualifying certain individuals from leadership positions based on sexual orientation or gender identity."

Without registered status, BLinC can't participate in on-campus recruitment fairs, receive university funding available to student groups or have access to university facilities.

University of Iowa Media Relations Director Anna Bassett told The Christian Post in a 2017 statement that “voluntary student organizations must adhere to the mission of the university, the UI's policies and procedures, and all local, state, and federal laws.”

“The organization will guarantee that equal opportunity and equal access to membership, programming, facilities, and benefits shall be open to all persons,” continued Bassett.

In January of last year, Judge Stephanie Marie Rose of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa granted BLinC a preliminary injunction, ordering that the university reinstate the group as a registered campus student organization for at least 90 days.

"[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," ruled the judge.

"This raises an issue regarding whether BLinC's viewpoint was the reason it was not allowed to operate with membership requirements that the university had determined violated the policy, while at the same time Imam Mahdi [a Muslim student group] was not subjected to any enforcement action."

Last August, the university temporarily reinstated several religious groups in response to a separate lawsuit filed by InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship over the school’s student group leadership standards.

This reinstatement agreement will last until the litigation against the university involving questions of the leadership standards for religious groups is resolved.  

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