Iowa bill aims to protect belief-based student groups

Recent, a Christian student group successfully sued the University of Iowa after administrators revoked its status for rejecting an "openly gay" candidate for a leadership position who refused to endorse the group's "Statement of Faith."

An Iowa state senator has introduced a bill that would prevent public colleges and universities from revoking the privileges of student groups that require members to endorse certain beliefs or principles.

A bill recently introduced in the Iowa legislature would make it illegal to revoke the privileges of belief-based student organizations that maintain religious requirements for leadership positions.

Senator Amy Sinclair introduced SB 3210, which in addition to requiring Iowa’s public colleges and universities to respect the rights of belief-based student organizations, would also forbid them from restricting student expression to so-called “free speech zones.”

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As previously reported by Campus Reform, a University of Iowa student group called Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) had its status revoked after a student accused the group of unfairly denying him a leadership position because he is “openly gay,” though BLinC maintains that the student was rejected because he refused to endorse the group’s “Statement of Faith.” A judge subsequently sided with the student group, ordering the university to restore its status.

If passed, the bill would require all Iowa institutions of higher education to formally recognize student organizations that have religious requirements for leadership positions. 

Schools that do fail to recognize belief-based organizations are subject to legal action, allowing students organizations to “seek appropriate relief, including but not limited to injunctive relief, monetary damages, reasonable attorney fees, and court costs.” 

Under Sinclair’s proposed legislation, all outdoor areas of Iowa’s public colleges and universities would also be designated “traditional public forums,” thus eliminating the possibility of confining expressive activity to a “free speech zone.” 

Additionally, the bill would mandate that state institutions are transparent in their compliance with the bill, requiring that they publish a report on their websites and provide a copy to the governor and elected officials.  

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Patrick Wronkiewicz, a member of the University of Iowa College Republicans, told Campus Reform that he is supportive of the bill.

“This bill will help defend a student's First Amendment rights on campus. By protecting the rights of belief-based organizations, this bill will ensure that students will be allowed to peacefully assemble and exchange ideas,” Wronkiewicz commented, suggesting that it appears as though “BLinC was targeted by individuals because of their religious beliefs.”

“Free speech zones are a big problem,” he added, expressing support for another aspect of Sinclair’s bill. “At the University of Iowa, students are only allowed to assemble in certain areas, and the bureaucratic process to gain access to these areas can be cumbersome to say the least.” 

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