One of the nation’s worst offenders of religious discrimination is headed to court – again.
The lawsuit was recently filed by a Christian student organization and the implications are huge.
In fact, the outcome could set an important precedent for protecting freedom of religion on college campuses for years to come – here’s why.
The University of Iowa stripped Business Leaders in Christ of its status as a student organization and essentially kicked the group off campus and placed it on a religious watchlist.
Why? Because it requires its leaders to adhere to a Biblical view of marriage.
When the group objected, the university deregistered other religious groups and forced them to outline their beliefs. According to CBN, the only religious group allowed to stay on campus was one that supported homosexuality.
“That was textbook discrimination and in violation of our clients’ first amendment rights,” said Jerry Baxter, vice president and senior counsel for Becket Law Firm, which is representing the group.
As the case heads to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Baxter says the court must hold universities accountable for forcing religious groups to change their statements of faith.
He says universities should be required to allow non-violent religious organizations to practice their beliefs without school interference.
“That’s really important for other students to see that and be willing to stand up for what they know are their rights of the Constitution,” Baxter told CBN News.
One federal court has already ruled in favor of the student organization.
Formed in 2014, Business Leaders in Christ sued the university in 2017 alleging 20 counts of religious discrimination.
The suit claimed the university tried to force the group to change its constitution and membership rules after a student said he was barred from a leadership position because he was gay.
The group argued that it did not deny the student because of his sexual orientation, but because leaders must abide by its “statement of faith,” which upholds the Biblical prohibition on sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and woman.
The university later revoked the group’s status, preventing it from receiving school funding, using school resources, and participating in some events. The status of more than 30 other student religious groups was also put on hold while the suit was litigated.
According to the Des Moines Register, the 2019 federal ruling granted a permanent injunction against the university, saying it could not use its human rights policy to revoke the group’s status.
The court ruled that the university applies the policy unevenly by allowing other student groups to limit membership based on religious views, race, sex and other characteristics.
“The Constitution does not tolerate the way defendants chose to enforce the human rights policy,” the decision by Judge Stephanie M. Rose of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa read.
“Particularly when free speech is involved, the uneven application of any policy risks the most exacting standard of judicial scrutiny, which the defendants have failed to withstand.”
Baxter called the decision “a win for basic fairness,” while BLC member Jake Estell said the victory “reinforces the common-sense idea that universities can’t target religious groups for being religious.”
The federal court ruled against the University of Iowa again last year when the same judge decided the school violated constitutional law when it kicked another religious group, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, off campus for requiring its leaders to uphold its Christian beliefs.
In that case, Rose called the university’s conduct “ludicrous” and “incredibly baffling” and ordered the school to pay damages.
“It’s rare for a federal judge to call out a public university for ‘ludicrous’ and ‘incredibly baffling’ violations of the First Amendment,” Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at Becket, told Fox News after the September 2019 verdict.
“The court already told the University of Iowa to stop picking on one Christian student group. The University responded by doubling down and kicking out Christian, Muslim and Sikh groups.”
“That was obviously wrong. And it’s even more clearly wrong once you consider, as the court did, that it was also unfair.”
Attorneys and religious liberty advocates contend that universities cannot restrict religious groups while it supports sports clubs, fraternities, and political organizations.
“We must have leaders who share our faith,” Greg Jao, director of external relations at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, told Fox News.
“No group — religious or secular — could survive with leaders who reject its values. We’re grateful the court has stopped the university’s religious discrimination.”
Please pray for Christian student organizations all over the country as they face discrimination and restrictions from universities looking to squash their faith.