The University of Iowa faces a lawsuit for preventing campus groups from choosing their leaders, a policy that led to 38 groups of Christians, Sikhs, and others being deregistered.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was one of the deregistered groups, and it filed a lawsuit Monday after consulting with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit legal group. The lawsuit alleges unlawful religious discrimination, and the InterVarsity group’s president Kristina Schrock said the university would be "a richer place" if it allowed religious student groups to operate.
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"We’re grateful to have been part of the university community for 25 years, and we think that the university has been a richer place for having Sikh, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, atheist, and Christian groups," she said. "Because we love our school, we hope it reconsiders and lets religious groups continue to authentically reflect their religious roots."
The push to deregister groups based on religious and ideological positions ramped up last year when the university decertified the Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) over its requirement that group leaders affirm biblical beliefs about marriage. University officials demanded BLinC revise its statement of faith in order to be LGBT inclusive, which BLinC refused to do, but a judge determined the university was not applying its rules uniformly and BLinC was allowed to recruit on campus.
Then in June, the university demanded all groups operate in accordance with the Human Rights Policy, which prevents groups from discriminating based on gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and a host of other categories. This led to 356 groups being told they have to change their rules to have "full and correct" human rights clauses, and refusal to do so would prevent them from accessing facilities and other resources.
Gender specific groups, such as fraternities and sororities, were told to change their rules and most have succumbed to pressure from the institution. They are being given until September to come into compliance, although the university is exempting them and sports organizations from sex-discrimination policies. However, 38 groups did not comply by June 15 and were thus decertified, and InterVarsity is responding with a lawsuit.
InterVarsity does have a human rights clause in its constitution, but it seeks to continue choosing leaders based on Christian beliefs.
"The students asked the school to cut them some slack, to allow them to do the same thing they've been doing for 25 years without any trouble, and the university said no," Becket Fund senior counsel Daniel Blomberg said. "They weren't even allowed to encourage their leaders to be Christian."
Blomberg said in a statement that the university should allow students "space to form their own groups that challenge and grow their sincere beliefs."
"Banning religious groups from having religious leaders just flattens diversity and impoverishes the campus," Blomberg said.
The university said it does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.
Among the groups now deregistered over noncompliance with the Human Rights Policy are the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship, the Chinese Dance Club, the Imam Mahdi Organization, the Latter-day Saint Student Association, and the Sikh Awareness Club.
Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, said it’s a shame to curtail religious freedom "in the name of diversity."
"Students should be free to associate around a common cause or mission, including religious ones," Anderson said. "And they should be free to advocate for that cause and live out that mission, and that requires the ability to select leaders who support the cause and embrace the mission."