Higher education

Rejected Christian student group wants to recruit at University of Iowa

Motion for injunction says campus recruiting fairs 'crucial' to its existence

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — A Christian-based student group that the University of Iowa recently deregistered after a former member said he was discriminated against for being gay wants an immediate court injunction allowing it to recruit on campus next month.

Business Leaders in Christ — which was founded in the Tippie College of Business in 2014 and goes by BLinC — continues to function but has lost its UI affiliation and associated perks, like inclusion in campus recruitment fairs and access to school funding and resources.

“Because the (university) derecognized BLinC, BLinC is unable to participate in the university’s upcoming spring recruitment fairs, which will take place on Jan. 24 and 25, 2018, and are crucial to BLinC’s continued existence,” court documents state.

The group is requesting that the court hold an “emergency hearing at the earliest possible time” on BLinC’s demand the university reinstate it before Jan. 24.

The injunction, if approved by a judge, would remain in place pending trial or until the court takes further action.

The case at issue hinges on whether BLinC violated the UI’s Human Rights Policy and the Iowa Civil Rights Act by barring an openly-gay student, identified in the records as Marcus Miller, from serving in a leadership role.

UI officials said it did, but BLinC argued it did not — rather rejecting Miller as a leader “because he explicitly planned to live in a way that was inconsistent with what the Bible says about sin.”

“I want you to know that it is not because you call yourself a homosexual that you cannot be on leadership,” the group’s former president, Hannah Thompson, told Miller in an email last summer, court documents show. “But your pursuit of this sin is how I came to such conclusions.”

Representing BLinC in its suit filed this month in U.S. District Court is the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington group that has been involved in high-profile cases including representing Hobby Lobby in a landmark religious liberty case before the Supreme Court.

The lawsuit asserts UI guidelines and policies allow student groups to organize according to common beliefs and values and “exercise free choice of members on the basis of their merits as individuals without restriction in accordance with the university policy on human rights.”

The university has let other student groups enforce such restrictions, like the UI Feminist Union that limits membership to students who agree with things like abortion rights, and the Islamic organization Imam Mahdi, which reserves leadership posts for Shia Muslims and requires they “refrain from major sins,” according to the lawsuit.

In a statement, the UI has said student organization membership should be open to anyone regardless of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, gender identity or other classification, and that groups should guarantee “equal opportunity and equal access to membership, programming, facilities, and benefits.”

The university has not responded to The Gazette’s questions about how the other student organizations are different.

In documents calling for an injunction, attorneys argue the UI’s Nov. 16 decision to deregister BLinC violate its rights to freedom of speech and religion, and its freedom to select religious leaders without government interference.

“Far from being the haven of tolerance it ought to be, the University of Iowa has singled out a Christian student group for special disfavor, banishing it from its campus,” attorneys argued. “ ... If there is room at the university for single-sex fraternities and literally hundreds of other ideology- and identity-driven student groups, surely there is also room for a student group that wants its leaders to be Christian.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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