Federal Court Strikes Down University of Iowa “Viewpoint Discrimination” Against Student Religious Groups
Families of all faiths have long had good reason to think twice about sending their sons and daughters to colleges and universities with a history of discrimination against religious organizations and their student leaders.
Ongoing reports reveal a nationwide trend of higher-ed administrations curbing student religious organizations’ free speech and free association on campus. Consider the case of InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, an organization with a 25-year history at the University of Iowa.
In 2018, the university deregistered the group – along with others including the Sikh Awareness Club, the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship, the Imam Mahdi Organization, Geneva Campus Ministry, and the Latter-day Saints Student Association – for asking that their group leaders share their faith and beliefs. At the same time, the Hawkeyes turned a blind eye to dozens of other student groups that screen their leaders for shared beliefs on issues like gender, race, and sexual orientation.
InterVarsity sued, claiming the administration had no right to bar student religious groups from choosing leaders who represent their faith teachings. The suit further alleged the university only punished disfavored religious groups for screening their leaders for mission alignment.
The Becket law firm represented InterVarsity (its second such case against the university and third overall) and took the Hawkeye administration to task for its double vision.
“No organization can live out its mission if its leaders don’t share its beliefs. Allowing all groups except religious groups to ensure that leaders are mission aligned is blatant religious discrimination,” said Daniel Blomberg, Becket’s senior counsel. “Schools are supposed to be a place of free inquiry and open thought, but the officials here punished opinions they didn’t like and promoted ones they did—all while using taxpayer dollars to do it.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed and ruled against the University. The federal court told university officials it was “hard-pressed to find a clearer example of viewpoint discrimination” than their discrimination against religious student groups.
Protect The 1st salutes Becket for this victory and for its ongoing work to protect student clubs from unjust discrimination by university officials. All student groups deserve such lasting protection.