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Religious student groups deserve equal treatment, court ruling tells U of Iowa

LifeSiteNews staff

February 7, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – A Christian student group won equal treatment and a permanent place on campus yesterday when a federal court ruled that the University of Iowa illegally targeted religious groups for requiring their leaders to believe in and follow their faith. In BLinC v. University of Iowa, the university kicked Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) off campus because the group requires its student leaders to affirm and live by its religious beliefs. After the university admitted that it knowingly targeted and deregistered BLinC and other religious groups, the court today ruled that the university must end its unequal treatment of religious student organizations.

Before a hearing last Friday, the university revealed a watch list of 32 groups — all religious — that it had placed on probation simply for requiring its leaders to follow their beliefs. Yet the university permits fraternities to remain single-sex and allows other groups to limit their leaders (and even members) to students who share their mission. The court's ruling states, "The Constitution does not tolerate the way [the University] chose to enforce the Human Rights Policy. Particularly when free speech is involved, the uneven application of any policy risks the most exacting standard of judicial scrutiny, which [the University] ha[s] failed to withstand."

"We are grateful the court protected our rights today — to let us have the same right as all student groups to express our viewpoints freely on campus, and to be who we are," said BLinC's Jake Estell. "This victory reinforces the commonsense idea that universities can't target religious student groups for being religious."

Membership in BLinC is open to all university students. To preserve its religious mission, BLinC asks its leaders to affirm that they believe in and live according to its religious beliefs. But after a complaint was filed with the university about BLinC's leadership requirements and its religious views on marriage, university officials told BLinC that it must "revise" its Statement of Faith and submit an "acceptable plan" for selecting its leaders. When BLinC informed the university that it could not change its faith or stop asking its leaders to share its faith, it was kicked off campus. The university then deregistered 10 other religious groups, including Chinese Student Christian Fellowship, the Imam Mahdi Muslim organization, the Latter-day Saint Student Association, and the Sikh Awareness Club, for the same reason.

"The university wanted a license to discriminate, and Judge Rose said no way," said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represents BLinC. "This ruling is a win for basic fairness, but it is also an eloquent plea for civility in how governments treat Americans in all their diversity. As a governmental body bound by the First Amendment, the university should have never tried to get into the game of playing favorites in the first place, and it is high time for it to stop now."

A parallel lawsuit by another Christian group kicked off the University of Iowa campus, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship v. University of Iowa, is still pending before Judge Rose and will likely be decided later this year.

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