University of Iowa Reinstates Nearly 40 Student Groups After InterVarsity Files Lawsuit

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)

The University of Iowa has decided to temporarily reinstate several religious student groups after they were kicked off campus for policies that the university deemed discriminatory.

The move comes just one week after InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, one of nearly 50 student groups derecognized by the university in July even though it had been a recognized student group for decades, filed a lawsuit against the university's actions.

According to a press release, the InterVarsity group received an agreement this week that allows it and the other groups banned for having selective leadership policies to be re-registered as campus groups until litigation against the university involving these matters are settled.

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While much attention on the university's actions has been put on lawsuits filed by two Christian groups against the university, the school also deregistered Muslim, Mormon and Sikh groups.

The university's temporary agreement was announced on Monday by Becket, a Washington, D.C.-based religious freedom law firm representing InterVarsity in the litigation.

"This win is a win for everyone — Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs alike," Becket senior counsel Daniel Blomberg said in a statement. "Everyone loses when state officials pick who leads students in prayer and worship, and everyone wins when religious students can make those decisions for themselves. Here's hoping the courts make the university's temporary patch into a permanent fix."

As previously reported, the issues started last year when the university initially derecognized Business Leaders in Christ over a policy that required its leaders to uphold the group's statement of faith. After a gay student complained about being denied a leadership position, the university told the group that its policy did not comply with the school's discrimination policy.

At the time, only Business Leaders in Christ was targeted for enforcement of the rule and a federal judge ruled this year that the university had unevenly applied the policy when it kicked Business Leaders in Christ off campus while letting other student groups that also don't comply with the rules to stay on campus. The judge ordered the university to reinstate Business Leaders in Christ.

The university proceeded to warn other student groups with policies that don't comply with the university's discrimination rules protecting individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and religion that they could no longer require their leaders to uphold a statement faith or ideology. After warning dozens of campus groups to change their policies, those nearly 40 that didn't were derecognized by the school last month.

Along with religious groups, certain campus groups reflecting cultural, political or occupational niches were also impacted, such as the university's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Students for Human Rights, the German Club, a number of Asian student groups, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, a nursing group, and even a bass fishing group.

According to Becket, the new temporary agreement came just hours after InterVarsity threatened to file a motion for temporary injunction to participate in important campus activities as students are returning for the start of classes next week.

"As we all prepare to head back to school, we're excited to know InterVarsity will also be back on campus and part of the community we love," Katrina Schrock, the student president of InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, said in a statement. "These last few months have been crazy, but we're grateful to be able to get back to focusing on meeting and serving the new graduate and professional students in our Hawkeye community."

The Christian Post reached out to the University of Iowa for comment. A response is pending.

Becket is hopeful that there will be a final decision from the school as early as next spring. A jury trial is scheduled in the Business Leaders in Christ case for March 2019.

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