A federal judge ruled on Friday that the University of Iowa has violated a Christian group’s First Amendment rights, the judge’s second ruling on the school’s treatment of Christians this year. This time, individual administrators may be held accountable for the infringement, because according to the judge, they should have known better after her first ruling.
A federal judge has determined that the University of Iowa violated a Christian group’s First Amendment rights, citing the school’s policy having not been applied fairly to all student groups on campus, according to a report by Inside Higher Ed.
The report added that Judge Stephanie M. Rose concluded that the University of Iowa officials unfairly discriminated against the Christian group, InterVarsity — the second ruling against the university’s treatment of Christian groups this year.
The first instance occurred after the University of Iowa rescinded its recognition of the Christian group Business Leaders in Christ via the school’s “Human Rights Policy” by citing the group’s “statement of faith,” which prohibits members from holding leadership roles within the student group if they are involved in LGBT relationships.
In January, Judge Rose required that the university restore Business Leaders in Christ’s status as an officially recognized student group on campus.
On Friday, the same judge issued a second ruling involving the University of Iowa and the violation of a Christian group’s First Amendment rights. In this instance, school officials had behaved in a strikingly similar manner by mandating that another Christian group — InterVarsity — change its rules that require its student leaders to be Christian.
When InterVarsity did not comply, the university reacted by de-registering the Christian group, insisting that it was in violation of the school’s “Human Rights Policy.”
According to Judge Rose, Vice President of Student Life Melissa Shivers, Associate Dean of Student Organizations Andrew Kutcher, Coordinator for Student Organization Development William Nelson, and others “proceeded to broaden enforcement of the Human Rights Policy in the name of uniformity — applying extra scrutiny to religious groups in the process.”
University President Bruce Harreld and Student Misconduct and Title IX investigator Thomas Baker were also named as defendants in the case.
The judge added that while placing extra scrutiny on religious groups via the school’s Human Rights Policy, the administrators also continued “to allow some groups to operate in violation of the policy and formalizing an exemption for fraternities and sororities.”
“The Court does not know how a reasonable person could have concluded this was acceptable, as it plainly constitutes the same selective application of the Human Rights Policy that the Court found constitutionally infirm” in the similar ruling earlier this year.
In a statement released on Monday, the University of Iowa says that it has “revised its student organization policy to permit student organizations to require their leaders ‘to agree to and support’ the organization’s beliefs.”
The school also maintains that it “will not investigate complaints related to student organization leadership selection processes or final leadership selection” on the basis of a group’s “commitment to a set of beliefs or affirmations.”
“The University shall not deny any benefit or privilege to a student organization based on the student organization’s requirement that the leaders of the student organization agree to and support its beliefs, as those beliefs are interpreted and applied by the student organization, and to further its mission.”
“This change is in alignment with a new state law and Board of Regents policy addressing student organizations and the First Amendment,” affirms the University of Iowa, adding that school officials “acted in good faith as they attempted to navigate the complicated interplay between the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the direct conflict with the Iowa Civil Rights Act.”