The University of Iowa is embroiled in a legal battle with one of its former student clubs after the group was accused of refusing to let a gay person join their leadership team.
As Faithwire previously reported, the Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) group were shut down after it was revealed that they asked an openly gay applicant to sign a “Statement of Faith” that pertains to mainline Christian beliefs.
“The University of Iowa recently found Business Leaders in Christ violated the UI’s Human Rights Policy and the Iowa Civil Rights Act,” University of Iowa Media Relations Director Anna Bassett said last December.
“Membership and participation in the organization must be open to all students without regard to race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, service in the U.S. military, sexual orientation, gender identity, associational preferences, or any other classification that deprives the person of consideration as an individual.”
The University then took the decision to revoke the group’s membership. The group’s loss of registration as an on-campus student organization means they can no longer book campus meeting space, participate in student recruitment fairs, access funds from student activity fees or use the university-wide communication services.
Student Marcus Miller filed a complaint with the university last February after the group rejected him for the position of Vice President on account of him being gay. The group’s Statement of Faith states “Every other sexual relationship beyond this is outside of God’s design and is not in keeping with God’s original plan for humanity.”
Almost inevitably, a lawsuit has now ensued.
“BLinC declined the student’s request because he expressly stated that he rejected BLinC’s religious beliefs and would not follow them,” the lawsuit claims, as reported by NBC News.
“Every organization to exist has to be able to select leaders who embrace its mission,” said the group’s attorney, Eric Baxter. BLinC is being represented by the nonprofit law firm Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “You would never ask an environmental group to have a climate denier as their leader. It’s the same thing here.”
“We have dozens of cases, but this is one that is very important,” Becket Fund attorney Daniel Blomberg said of the BLinC case. “It’s an issue that we have been paying attention to for a long time and goes to the heart of some First Amendment rights.”
Blomberg asserted his belief that the “university is acting in a discriminatory manner” by requesting that the student group re-write their Statement of Faith so that it falls in line with university policy.
“This is an important instance where a big mistake has been made, but we are hoping that the court will correct it in a manner that provides guidance for other schools,” Blomberg added.
Judge Stephanie M. Rose has set a hearing for Thursday after the Christian group requested the university reinstate its on-campus privileges in time to participate in spring recruitment fairs Jan. 24-25 The group says their attendance at these fairs is “crucial to its existence.”
“This is premeditated religious discrimination, plain and simple,” Baxter told Fox News at the end of last year.
Interestingly, the university has recognized that the court “must carefully weigh the compelling interest of religious freedom on the one hand and the compelling interest of preventing discrimination on the other hand.”
Miller has not commented on the case but has been working on developing his own student organization, Love Works.
“We are a campus ministry whose goal is to provide a safe place for all to explore faith-related topics, justice-related topics, and volunteer together,” he told the Daily Iowan. “We want to learn together.”
Miller set up the organization in part as a response to his rejection from BLinC. “It felt like some very – well-intended campus ministries sometimes marginalized people, particularly the LGBTQ [community], and I felt like there were some walls being built,” he said. “It made it hard for [LGBTQ] individuals to be in faith communities that were supportive of them.”
This is not the first time that student organizations have been unable to enforce their Biblical mandate for leadership. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA has reported that more than half a dozen campuses no longer recognize InterVarsity chapters because of their biblical requirements for leaders.