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University of Iowa violates Intervarsity Christian Fellowship's First Amendment rights, says federal appeal court

by Premier Journalist
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University of Iowa Campus Courtyard

The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled on Friday that a university cannot selectively deregister student organizations at risk of breaching said organizers' First Amendment Rights.

In 2019, the University of Iowa had decided to deregister Intervarsity Christian Fellowship alongside other religious groups. This mass deregistering was inspired after another organization campus, Business Leaders in Christ, sued the University for kicking it off campus due to complaints about BLiC not allowing LGBT members to hold leadership roles. Many religious organizations that the University of Iowa deregistered had similar policies, limiting who might be allowed. In response, Intervarsity decided to sue the University, claiming that this was a violation of religious rights.

The courts initially ruled in Intervarsity's favor, claiming that such a decision was a breach of First Amendment rights. Now the appeals court has upheld this argument, noting that the University of Iowa has unfairly applied its rules. For example, the University of Iowa exempts sororities, fraternities, and select sports groups from its policy banning sex discrimination. One local group, LoveWorks, requires members to sign a "gay-affirming statement of Christian Faith" before joining. That would thus disqualify any students who may hold more conservative views on gender and sexuality.

This selective exempt practice was unacceptable, writes Circuit Judge Jonathan Allen Kobes. "The University's choice to selectively apply the Human Rights Policy against InterVarsity suggests a preference for certain viewpoints — like those of LoveWorks—over InterVarsity's. The University focused its 'clean up' on specific religious groups and then selectively applied the Human Rights Policy against them. Other groups were simply glossed over or ignored." 

When asked for their take, a UI spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the university "respects the decision of the court and will move forward in accordance with the decision." 

Intervarsity's lawyer, Blomberg, also responded, noting that "Schools are supposed to be a place of free inquiry and open thought, but the school officials here punished opinions they didn't like and promoted ones they did — all while using taxpayer dollars to do it." Blomberg hopes that other schools will see the results of this lawsuit and make sure they do not discriminate accordingly.

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