DOJ slams U. of Iowa in Christian student group's lawsuit

Business Leaders in Christ was stripped of its status as an official student group at the school after the University of Iowa learned that it required its members to sign a statement of faith and denied a leadership position to a gay student.

The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in support of a Christian student organization's lawsuit against the University of Iowa.

The Department of Justice is getting involved in a First Amendment lawsuit against the University of Iowa, claiming the university violated student rights when it deregistered a Christian student organization.

The DOJ filed a statement of interest supporting the student organization Business Leaders in Christ, according to The Gazette. Business Leaders in Christ sued the University of Iowa after the school de-registered the organization in 2017 upon learning that members are required to sign a statement of faith. 

This requirement allegedly violated the school’s Human Rights policy and the University of Iowa deregistered the group after it prohibited a gay member from filling a leadership role.

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“The First Amendment freedoms of association, speech, and religion prohibit public colleges and universities from suppressing the expression and beliefs of student groups that officials disagree with,” the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in the department’s news release. “The University of Iowa in this case de-registered Business Leaders in Christ because university officials did not like its message. That is forbidden by the Constitution.”

The DOJ’s Statement of Interest makes three arguments against the university. It asserts that the University of Iowa “violated BLinC’s right of expressive association, which forbids exclusion of groups on the ground that officials find their views abhorrent.”

Secondly, the school allegedly discriminated against the Christian organization “based on its views on sexuality in violation of the fundamental free-speech principle [that] keeps the government from discriminating based on differing viewpoints.”

Lastly, the DOJ argues that the university violated BLinC’s “rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by discriminating against its religious beliefs.”

“As the Department of Justice has repeatedly emphasized over the last two years, public universities are legally required by [law] to protect the First Amendment rights of students,” DOJ Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio said in the release. “Unfortunately, too many schools are ignoring their legal obligations—and they are also undermining the very purpose of a university education, which is to advance learning through a free and robust exchange of ideas.”

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Kyle Apple, an economics student at the University of Iowa, expressed optimism regarding the DOJ statement when speaking with Campus Reform.

“We’ve seen the University suppress the free speech rights of Christians and conservatives on campus for years, and it’s about time that the government steps in to tell them that their actions are unconstitutional,” Apple said. “All students, regardless of religious or political affiliation, deserve to have a voice on campus. If the University tries to take that away, it’s only right for the government to come in and end those discriminatory practices.”

Additionally, Apple suggested that the Statement of Interest signals national support for government intervention into the “discriminatory speech policies” at the school and says that the university made a wrong decision when deregistering BLinC.

“Their actions were nothing more than discriminatory enforcement of University policy aimed at disrupting a traditionally Christian group of students exercising their right to free expression on the campus of a public institution,” said Apple.

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Iowa for comment, but did not receive a response. 

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