University of Iowa Becomes Latest School to Attack First Amendment

December 22, 2017

by Terry Schilling


This article is part of a series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

It seems almost every day we hear of incidences of censorship at colleges and universities. Whether it’s students who hold a particular viewpoint being silenced, certain speakers being banned from campus, or specific student groups being targeted and even shut down, lately First Amendment violations seem to be commonplace at some American institutions of higher education.

In her Liberty Minute titled “Censorship on Campus,” Helen Krieble speaks about one of these cases of censorship that happened a few years back:

At least one major university made headlines when it decided to ban the movie American Sniper from campus. College officials were quoted saying, ‘We didn’t want students exposed to opinions that promote violence as a solution to disagreement.’

Whatever you think about the Iraq War and the role of the US military, there is an even larger issue in the important role of education in a free society. If you look through the lens of liberty, you see that when colleges try to cut off debate and push only one point of view, that is brainwashing, not education. Encouraging students to analyze both sides and form their own opinions is vital to free thought.

That was back in 2015, but campus censorship has only intensified since then. One of the latest incidents of censorship on campus occurred at the University of Iowa, where a Christian group, Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), has been shut down on account of the group’s leadership standards. Last Monday, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced a lawsuit against the school on behalf of the Christian students.

The controversial portion of their club’s statement of faith requires that leaders “conduct their careers without the greed, racism, sexual immorality and selfishness that all too often arise in business, political, and cultural institutions.”

Because of these beliefs, BLinC is no longer able to receive any funding or have access to any of the university’s facilities. According to Becket’s press release, the Dean of Students told the group’s leaders that if they want their club allowed back on campus, “it must ‘revise’ its religious beliefs and submit an ‘acceptable plan’ for selecting its leaders.”

Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, called this ultimatum “premeditated religious discrimination, plain and simple.” Jacob Estell, the student president of BLinC, also responded saying, “This is 2017, not 1984. Our beliefs weren’t made by us, and they can’t be changed by us either—certainly not just to satisfy Orwellian government rules.”

Becket’s lawsuit accuses university administrators of specifically targeting these students due to their Christian beliefs, pointing to the university’s discriminatory inconsistency as proof:

There are over 500 student groups at the University with distinct missions, creating an intellectually and culturally rich campus environment. Fraternities and sororities can limit membership to men and women respectively. Pro-choice groups can reject students who are pro-life and vice versa. Feminist groups may require members to support their cause. And environmental groups can choose leaders who support theirs.

The complaint goes on to note that while BLinC only requires leaders, not members, to adhere to its statement of faith and does not prohibit anyone from joining, the university policy allows campus organizations to even require all members to behave in a certain way or share certain beliefs.

In an article published by the Des Moines Register, Estell defended his First Amendment rights and rebuked his school for discriminating against him and his fellow students on account of their Christian beliefs.

Our organization, as its name so obviously reveals, is a Christian group. We are students who care about faith and also want to study business. We had the audacity to think those two things were not mutually exclusive . . . But administrators at the University of Iowa in their infinite wisdom have decided that of the myriad student groups on campus, ours is in need of ‘correction.’

Hopefully, the court will realize the threat to religious liberty that these administrators are posing when they claim the authority to “correct” their students’ deeply held religious beliefs. As Krieble noted, the school’s actions are nothing short of unconstitutional discrimination and ought to be rejected.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0


Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.

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