A Christian student group is suing the University of Iowa after it claims it was kicked off campus for requiring its leaders to sign a statement of faith that forces them to live out their careers in the organization without engaging in "sexual immorality."
The legal nonprofit Becket announced Monday that the student organization Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the University of Iowa.
According to a press release, the school's dean of students, Lyn Redington, told BLinC, which was founded three years ago, that "it must 'revise' its religious beliefs and submit an 'acceptable plan' for selecting its leaders" if it wants to regain its status as an official student group recognized by the school.
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"This is 2017, not 1984," Jacob Estell, the student president of BLinC, said in a statement. "Our beliefs weren't made by us, and they can't be changed by us either — certainly not just to satisfy Orwellian government rules."
BLinC allows anyone to join the group no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity but just asks that those in leadership positions within the group sign and uphold the group's statement of faith, which decries things such as racism, selfishness, greed and sexul immorality.
According to the lawsuit, troubles for the group started in 2016 when a student complained that he was denied a leadership position because he was "openly gay." However, BLinC argued that the student's claim was false, explaining he was denied over his rejection of the BLinC's statement of faith.
A university investigation was launched into the student group's policies. After the investigation initially found that the student group had violated the school's human rights policy, William R. Nelson, the executive director of the Iowa Memorial Union at the University of Iowa, allegedly told the students they might be able keep their registered status if they amended the BLinC constitution to adequately reflect the school's policy.
More importantly, Nelson wanted the group to explain in the constitution that students aren't turned away from leadership positions because of their status as a gay or non-Christian but because of their unwillingness to live by the group's statement of faith.
The lawsuit claims that although the students did as Nelson asked, Nelson issued a final decision on Oct. 19 that stated that BLinC's revised constitution was not in compliance with university rules against discrimination.
"Dr. Nelson determined that BLinC's 'Statement of Faith, on its face, does not comply with the University's Human Rights policy since its affirmation, as required by the [BLinC] Constitution for leadership positions, would have the effect of disqualifying certain individuals from leadership positions based on sexual orientation or gender identity,'" the lawsuit explains.
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BLinC appealed Nelson's decision to Redington on Nov. 2.
On Nov. 16, Redington ruled that BLinC's revised constitution "does not satisfy the requirements delineated in order for BLinC to remain as a registered student organization in good standing." She cited the same concern that Nelson did, saying that the revised policy would have the "effect of disqualifying certain individuals from leadership positions based on sexual orientation or gender identity."
Without registered status, BLinC can't participate in on-campus recruitment fairs, receive university funding available to student groups or have access to university facilities.
"In rendering its decision, the University singled out BLinC's Christian beliefs about sexual morality, finding that these beliefs, on their face, were discriminatory and impermissible," the lawsuit claims. "The University concluded that if BLinC wants to be re-registered, it will have to amend its Statement of Faith and submit an 'acceptable plan' for selecting its leaders."
A university spokesperson issued a statement to The Christian Post on Tuesday, explaining that while the University of Iowa "respects the rights of students, faculty and staff to practice the religion of their choice, voluntary student organizations must adhere to the mission of the university, the UI's policies and procedures, and all local, state, and federal laws."
"The University of Iowa recently found Business Leaders in Christ violated the UI's Human Rights Policy and the Iowa Civil Rights Act," University of Iowa Media Relations Director Anna Bassett told CP.
"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," she continued. "The organization will guarantee that equal opportunity and equal access to membership, programming, facilities, and benefits shall be open to all persons."
The lawsuit also argues that the university's action is in a way discriminatory because other student groups are allowed to uphold selective policies to determine who leads their groups.
"The Islamic organization Imam Mahdi reserves certain membership benefits, including leadership roles, to members who are Shia Muslims," the lawsuit claims. "The group also requires its leaders to 'refrain from major sins (kaba'ir) and endeavor to avoid minor sins (saga'ir).'"
The lawsuit also cites the campus' pro-choice group, the Iowa Feminist Union, and states that the group limits its membership to students who "agree" with its "purposes and principles." In addition, the group Students for Life requires its members to "hold pro-life beliefs."