In a surprising break for religious liberty issues currently in litigation, an Iowa federal court ruled on Tuesday to protect the religious freedom of Business Leaders In Christ, a student group that the University of Iowa had kicked off campus because of its rule that student leaders were required to hold to Biblical beliefs.
In BLinC v. University of Iowa, the court said that BlinC must be allowed back on campus to participate in a student recruitment fair today, Jan. 24. Hopefully, this will be a step toward ensuring that religious student groups are treated the same as all other groups on campus rather than being ostracized for their faith.
The University of Iowa hosts over 500 diverse student groups, such as political groups, environmental groups, and religious groups. Many of these groups limit their leadership and even their membership to those who share their mission. Yet, the university is discriminating against BLinC, saying the group cannot require its leaders to share its faith because school administrators don’t like its religious mission.
Membership in BLinC is open to all university students, but to preserve its mission — not unlike groups on campus with other, different visions — BLinC asks its leaders to affirm that they abide by specific religious beliefs. A gay student sought a leadership position and was declined, so he complained about BLinC’s leadership requirements and its beliefs concerning Christian beliefs about marriage. In response, university administrators responded by kicking BLinC off campus and told it to “revise” its Statement of Faith and submit an “acceptable plan” for selecting leaders if it wanted back on.
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.
In a statement, Jacob Estell, BLinC student president, said, “The University would never let Iowa State’s Cy the Cardinal lead the Hawkeyes, so why would it think it is okay to force religious student groups to select leaders who don’t embrace their mission?”
The court decision ruled for BLinC, saying it found that “BLinC has shown that the University does not consistently and equally apply” its policy to student groups and most importantly because “The public interest and the First Amendment favor the expression of ideas, even those the public and courts may find abhorrent."
In a statement, Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, who defended BLinC, 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.”
Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator's Young Journalist Award.
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