Is UI unfairly targeting this Christian group?
A Christian student group says the University of Iowa unfairly targeted its members based on their religious beliefs -- and now, new information coming to light could support the group's case, which heads to federal court on Wednesday.
The university is targeting Business Leaders in Christ over its supposed violation of the school's human rights policy. But a review has found that 356 of 513 student organizations at the University are in noncompliance with the human rights policy, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Two of those organizations are specifically named in BLinC's lawsuit. For example, lawsuit highlights the UI Feminist Union, which it says requires support for abortion practices. The document also names the Islamic organization Imam Mahdi, which it says requires not only that members be a Shia Muslim but that they “refrain from major sins...and endeavor to avoid minor sins." Homosexuality is a major sin in the Islamic faith.
More than a year ago, the student group Business Leaders in Christ, or BLinC, filed a lawsuit against the University of Iowa after the school attempted to disband the group over its membership criteria, which required students to live out aspects of the Christian faith. BLinC is currently being represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The lawsuit centers around BLinC’s decision not to allow openly gay student Marcus Miller to serve in an officer role.
BLinC has a “statement of faith” that all of its leaders are required to sign. The statement includes an affirmation that “God’s intention for a sexual relationship is to be between a husband and a wife in the lifelong covenant of marriage. Every other sexual relationship beyond this is outside of God’s design and is not in keeping with God’s original plan for humanity.”
Miller reported to the University of Iowa that he was denied a leadership position because of his sexuality. BLinC maintains that the issue was how Miller “expressly stated that he rejected BLinC’s religious beliefs and would not follow them.” At the time of this decision, the club president was adamant that Miller was denied a leadership position “not because he was gay, but because he did not agree with BLinC’s biblically based views on sexual conduct.”
After hearing Miller’s complaint, the University of Iowa asked BLinC to amend its constitution to be more inclusive. After declining to do so, the university stripped the group of its registered student organization status. The University’s legal argument is that, as a state institution, it cannot host or support organizations that actively require adherence to any specific religious practices. To help uphold this aim, the university requires that all groups compose their constitutions to be in step with a human rights policy. This policy mandates organizations be open to all people regardless of sexual orientation.
Although the official jury trial for Business Leaders in Christ v. The University of Iowa is scheduled for March 4, both sides are scheduled to appear Wednesday at a federal courthouse, where the student group’s attorneys say they will push for permanent protection for BLinC, according to a news release from nonprofit freedom of religion-focused law firm Becket, which is representing the students.
Campus Reform reached out to Kyle Apple, a student at the University of Iowa. Apple said that after BLinC was disbanded there was “a lot of pushback from groups of students who felt the university enforced their policies in a discriminatory way.”
In Apple’s view, “the university was wrong in removing Business Leaders in Christ from campus,” because it “arbitrarily forced the organization to engage in a behavior that went against their religious beliefs.”
As stated in BLinC's court documents, “this case involves a rapidly-developing and unsettled area of law and is certainly not, as Plaintiff [the University] suggests, ‘open and shut.’” Rather, this case poses “the immensely important constitutional question before the court: which pillar of our democracy will prevail when First Amendment freedoms conflict with civil rights laws?”