A federal court has ruled that the University of Iowa illegally stripped a Christian group of its status as a registered student organization on its campus.
Last Wednesday, Stephanie M. Rose, a judge within the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, ruled that the university must evenly apply its human rights policy and refrain from targeting religious student groups.
“The Constitution does not tolerate the way defendants chose to enforce the human rights policy,” Judge Rose’s decision reads. “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.”
The lawsuit, filed by Business Leaders in Christ in December 2017, alleges the University of Iowa of violating its First Amendment rights by revoking the group’s active status on campus after group leaders were asked to sign a “statement of faith,” which includes a line that sexual relations should only occur between a man and a woman.
The court has ruled that the student group should be able to permanently return and operate on campus.
The nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the student group in court, said the decision “reinforces the commonsense idea that universities can’t target religious student groups for being religious.”
“The university wanted a license to discriminate, and Judge Rose said no way,” Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said.
“This ruling is a win for basic fairness, but it is also an eloquent plea for civility in how governments treat Americans in all their diversity. As a governmental body bound by the First Amendment, the university should have never tried to get into the game of playing favorites in the first place, and it is high time for it to stop now.”
In December 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest before the court, backing the claims of the student group. The Department argued that the university violated the student group’s First Amendment rights to free association and free speech.