Christian students claim school told them to 'revise' beliefs

A Christian student group has filed a lawsuit against the University of Iowa, claiming that the institution broke the law by asking the group to reform its religious beliefs.

According to a lawsuit posted online by a public-interest law firm Becket, the public university de-registered the Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) after an “openly gay” student accused the group of unfairly denying him a leadership position.

“In 2016, a student member of BLinC claimed that he was denied a leadership position because he is ‘openly gay,’” the Monday lawsuit explains. “The charge was false. BLinC declined the student’s request because he expressly stated that he rejected BLinC’s religious beliefs and would not follow them.”

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“In rendering its decision, the University singled out BLinC’s Christian beliefs about sexual morality, finding that these beliefs, on their face, were discriminatory and impermissible,” the 42-page document continues.

The group acknowledges that in order to “guide its work,” it adopted “a Statement of Faith describing what it means to be a disciple of Christ,” describing those beliefs as integral to its purpose.

“The Statement of Faith embraces traditional Christian doctrines, including those concerning the supremacy of the Bible, the Unity of the Trinity, and the availability of salvation through Jesus Christ,” the lawsuit states, noting that the statement also provides teachings that help members with their careers, and encourages the use of “financial resources and personal talents to serve the community.”

The group also stresses that in order to “preserve and fully express its religious mission, BLinC requires all of its leaders (but not members) to affirm that they will embrace and follow the Statement of Faith.”

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According to the lawsuit, “the University singled out BLinC’s Christian beliefs about sexual morality, finding that these beliefs, on their face, were discriminatory and impermissible.”

The school also allegedly told BLinC that in order to maintain its status as an official campus organization, it would have to alter its Statement of Faith and submit an “acceptable plan” for electing student leaders.

“The University is targeting BLinC because it dislikes BLinC’s religious beliefs,” the plaintiffs argue. “The University’s attempt to tell BLinC how to define its faith and select its leaders constitutes religious animus and discrimination and violates clearly established federal and state law.

“The University knows that what it is doing to BLinC is unfair, illegal, and unconstitutional,” the lawsuit continues. “It allows other student groups to define their own mission and limit both leadership and membership to those who embrace that mission.”

The group also notes that the university has previously “conceded that it must allow other religious student to select their own leaders,” while stressing that BLinC “is being targeted because the University has animosity towards its religious beliefs.”

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In its press release Monday, the Becket law firm doubled-down on its defense of the student organization, arguing that vetting students based on their beliefs is not an uncommon method of determining group membership elsewhere.

“Pro-choice groups can reject students who are pro-life and vice versa,” the law firm writes. “Feminist groups may require members to support their cause. And environmental groups can choose leaders who support theirs. But even though BLinC allows anyone to join, the University is discriminating against it for requiring its leaders to embrace its mission and beliefs.”

In a statement to Campus Reform, however, Media Relations Director Anne Bassett countered that the school “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” noting that it provides access to a wide variety of religious student organizations.

“The University of Iowa respects the right of students, faculty, and staff to practice the religion of their choice,” Bassett said. “During orientation, new students are invited to learn about the 20 religious student organizations on campus and the worship opportunities in the surrounding community.”

Bassett also stressed that registered student organization “must adhere to the mission of the university, the UI’s policies and procedures, and all local, state, and federal laws,” and that the school had determined that BLinC “violated the UI’s Human Rights Policy and the Iowa Civil Rights Act.”

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