Attorneys for a University of Iowa Christian student club that’s suing the school think that Iowa’s latest move to amend the governing documents of campus organizations is targeting faith groups once again.
The university asked its student groups to ensure that their governing documents include what it calls a human rights clause. If they failed to do so, the university “deregistered” them, which means they’re no longer able to operate as an official campus organization and utilize privileges like meeting space and access to campus activity fairs to recruit students.
The university says that it has deregistered 39 student organizations that missed its summer deadline.
The human rights clause is a non-discrimination policy that Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), a U of I student group, opposes. BLinC says the university is engaging in viewpoint discrimination by trying to force it to allow any student, no matter their beliefs, to become a club leader. The club has filed a federal lawsuit against Iowa for kicking it off campus after the club rejected a gay student for a leadership position. The university said the club discriminated against the student but the club maintains the student would not agree to a statement of faith that rejects homosexual behavior.
The club’s attorney, Eric Baxter with the nonprofit law firm Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said, “what they’re doing is trying to target religious organizations and tell them that they can’t have leaders that support their views.” He added “it’s really an outrageous effort by the university to purge groups from campus that it doesn’t like.”
A local Iowa newspaper identified 22 of the newly deregistered student groups as organized around “religion, culture or ideology.” The groups include InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, Christian Pharmacy Fellowship, Chinese Student Christian Fellowship, Geneva Campus Ministry, Imam Mahdi Organization, Young Life and the Latter-day Saint Student Association.
Unprecedented Move – Could Impact Other States
First Amendment Partnership, a D.C.-based religious freedom advocacy group, says the university’s derecognition of so many student groups is unprecedented. President Tim Schultz issued a statement explaining “freedom of association is guaranteed for all Americans in the First amendment. Integral to this protection is the ability of groups to form and choose their own leadership.”
First Amendment Partnership says ten states currently have laws that affirm the right of student groups to choose their own leaders and the University of Iowa’s latest action could prompt more states, including Iowa, to pass similar legislation.
Lance Kinzer, director of policy and government relations for First Amendment, stated, “we think it’s good public policy. It promotes the kind of intellectual diversity that campuses are supposed to be about.”
Last year the Iowa Senate passed such a bill but it failed to pass in the House.