By Elianna Novitch
A campus Christian organization is being reinstated temporarily after the University of Iowa removed its recognition for violating the school’s Human Rights Policy and the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
A federal judge ordered the UI to temporarily reinstate Business Leaders in Christ on Jan. 23 after it determined that the UI did not consistently and equally apply its Human Rights Policy.
Following the investigation of a complaint made by then-UI sophomore Marcus Miller, the UI deregistered Business Leaders in Christ as a recognized student organization in November 2017, citing discrimination. Miller contended that the group refused to allow him to hold a leadership position because he is gay.
The group was granted a temporary injunction to be reinstated as a recognized campus organization for 90 days by Judge Stephanie M. Rose — just in time to recruit at the Student Organization Fair.
The organization held its first meeting on Feb. 2 after being reinstated. Organization President Jacob Estell said the group was excited to see both old members and new members who were recruited at the Student Organization Fair.
“We are very excited to be back,” Estell said. “We are just excited for the next couple weeks, when we can actually get back to [meeting] together in fellowship with each other.”
Business Leaders in Christ filed a lawsuit against the UI in December 2017, citing discrimination by the university because the group requires its student leaders to embrace and follow its religious beliefs.
Business Leaders in Christ said in the lawsuit that they had declined Miller’s request because he expressly stated that he rejected the group’s religious beliefs and would not follow them.
The UI found that the group violated the school’s Human Rights Policy and the Iowa Civil Rights Act, and it issued a statement saying it does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in accordance with federal and state law.
“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 statement said.
In the lawsuit against the university, the Christian organization argued that the university’s Human Rights Policy is not applied to or enforced equally on all student organizations.
The constitutions of other student organizations such as Students for Life, the Korean American Student Association, and the University of Iowa Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance were submitted to the court showing that other student organizations are permitted to organize around their missions and beliefs.
The university said it only reviews student organization constitutions when a complaint has been filed.
Five other faith-based UI student organizations came out in support of Business Leaders in Christ being reinstated and agreed that leaders should adhere to the group’s beliefs. The four Christian groups and one Jewish group — Chi Alpha, 24:7, Ratio Christi, Christian Medical & Dental Associations, and Chabad on Campus — filed an amicus brief in support of the group.
(Sometimes, issues in a case may have wider significance than just two parties, and other groups want to participate. An amicus brief, “friend of the court,” allows someone who is not a party to a case to offer information that the court may consider.)
The five student organizations that filed the brief are represented by attorney Caleb Dalton with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national conservative Christian nonprofit that contacted the groups about submitting a brief to the court.
The Daily Iowan spoke with leaders from the organizations regarding what they believe when it comes to student leaders in their organizations.
“I would want leaders reflecting our belief system,” Director of Chabad on Campus Rabbi Avremel Blesofsky said. “Regarding the student organization, I would seek legal guidance if such a situation arises.”
The National Director of Christian Medical & Dental Associations, Bill Reichart, said his organization would also want leaders to adhere to its Christian beliefs.
“We would agree with BLinC’s position in that we wouldn’t have a problem if someone who was wrestling with a same-sex attraction wanted to be a leader … like BLinC, that situation wouldn’t be an issue for us,” Reichart said. “But also like BLinC, we would have a concern allowing someone to be a leader in our group who would be unwilling to align their sexual behavior within the boundaries of what is historically and biblically believed within Christianity …
“That view doesn’t just single out someone who is gay, but it would also address someone who is heterosexual, too.”
A leader of 24:7 said all groups, whether religious or not, should be able to have leaders who adhere to the group’s beliefs.
“Universities are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, and we value that for everyone. The amicus brief, and this case, really is not about 24:7, BLinC, or any other specific group,” 24:7 Campus Pastor Wade Urig said. “It’s about the beautiful value of diversity. Whether the group is for Christians or communists, Muslims or musicians, feminists or filmmakers, they are and should be free to require leaders to adhere to their beliefs — to affirm what makes each diverse group unique. That’s the beauty of the marketplace of ideas.”
The UI had no additional comment when asked about other student organizations coming out in support for Bussiness Leaders in Christ.
The judge ordered that following the 90-day period of reinstatement, the group may seek further action as necessary, and the UI may respond by detailing any changes to the enforcement of its Human Rights Policy to registered student organizations.