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Christian Group Sues U of Iowa for Discrimination, Denying Religious Freedom to Choose Leaders

mosaic of the University of Iowa

On Monday, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship filed a discrimination lawsuit against the University of Iowa following that institution's mass deregistration of 38 student groups last month. The university first targeted Intervarsity because it requires leaders to sign a Christian statement of faith. This requirement is essential for freedom of association, and the university acted unjustly in singling out Intervarsity and these 38 groups, the lawsuit claims.

"In InterVarsity Christian Fellowship v. University of Iowa, a student group is suing the University after it was kicked off campus for requiring its leaders to agree with its faith," the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Intervarsity, announced in a press release Monday. "Almost 40 other student groups —including the Sikh Awareness Club, the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship, the Imam Mahdi Organization, and the Latter-day Saint Student Association—were also expelled by the University at the same time."

The battle began last year, when the university exiled Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), a Christian group that required leadership to embrace Christian beliefs, including the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman. BLinC sued the university, claiming that the school cannot treat BLinC differently from other, non-religious groups.

As if to illustrate just how monumental the right of free association is, the university deregistered 37 other groups, including the German Club, the Imam Mahdi Organization, the Japanese Students and Scholars Club, the Latter-day Saint Student Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Sikh Awareness Club, Wall-Breakers, and Young Americans for Liberty.

"According to the university, a Baptist, Muslim, or Sikh club is committing religious discrimination if it wants to have a leader who is Baptist, Muslim, or Sikh," Katie Glenn, policy council at the 1st Amendment Partnership (1AP), told PJ Media. "This policy defies common sense and dilutes campus ministries."

The policy also arguably violates the plain text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging ... the right of the people peaceably to assemble."

According to the Intervarsity lawsuit, "The University’s purge of dissenters causes uniquely existential harm to religious groups."

"A group’s leaders are the embodiment of its identity and mission," the suit claims. "A religious group denied religious leadership will ultimately cease to be religious." Furthermore, the university showed its discriminatory purpose by not kicking out various other clubs that are allowed to choose leaders based on shared identity and mission.

"For instance, the University (rightly) allows fraternities to have only male leaders and members, and female athletic clubs to have only female leaders and members," Intervarsity notes. "Republicans and Democrats can each choose to be led by those who share their political beliefs."