University of Iowa sued again over religious liberty

The University of Iowa has temporarily reinstated several religious student groups after they were deregistered because of policies that the university deemed discriminatory.

The move comes one week after InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship filed suit against the university in U.S. District Court on Aug. 6. InterVarsity is one of 38 student groups deregistered by the university in July for having selective leadership policies, such as requiring officers to adhere to a statement of faith or religious values.

InterVarsity is the second student group to file suit against the university. Another organization, Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), was deregistered last fall after telling a gay student he would not be eligible to be an officer unless he affirmed the organization’s position on traditional marriage. BLinC filed suit in December 2017, and in January 2018 a judge granted an injunction requiring the university to restore BLinC’s registered status while the case is pending. The recent decision to temporarily reinstate organizations was announced by the university Aug. 13 and will be in effect as the case is litigated.

Twenty-two of the 38 groups deregistered by the university are organized around “religion, culture or ideology,” according to The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The groups include Christian, Muslim, Mormon and Sikh organizations.

‘Differences in treatment’

At issue is the university’s human rights policy, which according to the lawsuit states, “In no aspect of [the university’s] program shall there be differences in the treatment of persons because of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, service in the U.S. military, sexual orientation, gender identity, associational preferences or any other classification that deprives the person of consideration as an individual.”

However, one argument in InterVarsity Graduate’s lawsuit is that the university allows other student groups to discriminate based on gender and personal beliefs while not extending the same prerogative to religious groups. That type of discrimination violates the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions, according to the complaint filed by the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who is representing InterVarsity.

Diverse community

“The university (rightly) allows fraternities to have only male leaders and members, and female athletic clubs to have only female leaders and members,” the complaint states. “Republicans and Democrats can each choose to be led by those who share their political beliefs. Yet while it makes broad exceptions for political groups, fraternities, sororities and sports clubs to select both their leadership and membership, it denies a narrower accommodation for religious groups to select their leaders.”

The complaint also notes two other InterVarsity chapters at the University of Iowa — Black Campus Ministries and International Neighbors — were not deregistered even though they hold the same leadership requirements as InterVarsity Graduate.

InterVarsity Graduate student president Katrina Schrock said, “We’re grateful to have been part of the university community for 25 years, and we think that the university has been a richer place for having Sikh, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, atheist and Christian groups. Because we love our school, we hope it reconsiders and lets religious groups continue to authentically reflect their religious roots,” according to a Becket news release.

A university spokesperson told Baptist Press “the university will not comment on the merits of the case per its policy on pending litigation.” (TAB, BP)

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