Education

Iowa Board of Regents adopt new free-speech policy, matching new state law

New Regent David Barker sits during the Iowa Board of Regents meeting at the University of Iowa's Levitt Center for University Advancement in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
New Regent David Barker sits during the Iowa Board of Regents meeting at the University of Iowa's Levitt Center for University Advancement in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa’s Board of Regents on Thursday — without discussion — adopted a new policy explicitly barring its public universities from denying benefits to student organizations that want to require their leaders agree with their beliefs and ideology.

The new board policy comes in response to a new state law, which Gov. Kim Reynolds signed March 27, requiring the regents adopt a free-speech policy that — among other things — addresses grounds and facilities; campus speakers and programs; and student organizations.

That law — specifically the portion addressing student organizations — came in response to a very public fight between the University of Iowa and its faith-based student group Business Leaders in Christ. In that case, UI administrators in 2017 deregistered BLinC for barring an openly gay member from becoming a leader — accusing the group of violating its human rights policy.

IOWA CITY - Iowa's Board of Regents this week will consider taking the first step toward adopting a new policy that explicitly prohibits its universities from denying benefits to student organizations based on their viewpoints or the groups' requirements that leaders agree with their beliefs and views.

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BLinC sued UI in federal court, accusing it of violating its First Amendment rights, and a judge ruled in favor of the student organization — noting the university unevenly enforces its policy and allows other student groups to choose leaders based on ideology.

According to the new law and Board of Regents policy, “Student organizations may, but are not required to, limit leadership positions to students who, upon individual inquiry, affirm that they support the student organization’s missions.”

Some Democratic lawmakers who opposed the legislation call the new law “state-sponsored discrimination.”

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