Photo credit: wp paarz via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Court to University of Iowa: Stop Discriminating Against Christian Student Group

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Nicole Russell, writing for the Washington Examiner, reports on a stunning ruling in favor of religious liberty from an Iowa federal court which ordered the University of Iowa to cease discriminating against religious student groups. There are over 500 student groups on the University of Iowa’s campus, among them a club called Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) which requires its leadership to believe in Christian values. It was this rule that got them kicked off of the university’s campus last year.

The original offense was taken because a gay student tried to obtain a leadership position in BLinC and was rejected. Even though BLinC is open to all students, the club holds that its leaders must agree with certain biblical principles. However, the student in question did not agree with all these principles and thus was rejected for the leadership position. This led to a complaint being lodged with the administration and then to BLinC being kicked off campus, though the club was told that, to be reinstated, they could revise their rules to include a more “acceptable plan” for choosing their leadership. One need not strain the imagination here to determine what “acceptable” would mean: an inclusivity that contradicts BLinC’s religious values.

More details on the incident are included in the case’s legal brief:

Thompson met with the member and asked him if he planned to follow BLinC’s beliefs regarding sexual conduct. The member said he intended to pursue same-sex relationships. Thompson told the member he could continue to be a member of BLinC, but he was not eligible for a leadership position because his decision to seek same-sex relationships was inconsistent with BLinC’s religious beliefs. “Thompson emphasized to the member that her decision was not because he was gay, but because he did not agree with BLinC’s biblically based views on sexual conduct.

The above section illustrates the just reasoning exercised by BLinC in this case. The club did not discriminate on the basis of the student’s sexual orientation, but rather on his open opposition to the mission of the club. Thankfully, the court ruled for BLinC, clearly pointing out that the University of Iowa administration was operating with a double standard. There are no clubs where the leadership is allowed to be in open opposition to the club’s mission — otherwise, that club would not be able to exist. Indeed, it is almost a certainty that if a traditional Christian ran for a leadership position in an LGBT club that he would be rejected, though one suspects the University of Iowa would not kick the LGBT club off the campus for this identical series of events.

The senior counsel of Becket, Eric Baxter, who defended BLinC in the case, said, “The Court has told the University of Iowa to stop discriminating against BLinC because of its religious beliefs. Public universities can’t tell religious student groups what to believe or who to pick as their leaders.” Although Baxter speaks truthfully, it is unlikely that many universities today would adhere to the standard of justice which ought to give just as much right to religious groups to operate in good faith as it does to non-religious groups. Nevertheless, it is a just outcome that the federal court ordered that BLinC be allowed to return to participate in the student group recruitment fair taking place on January 24th.

The idea of a university is supposed to include the free commerce of ideas, the just application of ideals oriented toward truth, spirited debate, the freedom of inquiry, and respect for the dignity of all. However, the administration of the University of Iowa has evidently narrowed that focus to include only those who espouse their secular worldview, going against the very ideals of the university — and, indeed, any credible institution of learning. Fortunately, the court has recognized this and forced the university to do what it ought to have done in the first place: respect the just rights and religious liberty of all its students. Let’s hope other institutions of higher education will now learn the right lesson from this case.

Photo credit: wp paarz via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0


Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, a writer in residence and teacher of philosophy and theology at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta. He is also a senior contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and has written for numerous venues on matters of faith, culture and education.