Education

UI asking for more time to review enforcement of its human rights policy in response to ruling on student group

Extension will keep Christian student group on campus months longer

The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

A once-deregistered University of Iowa student organization that has captured the spotlight nationally will retain its official status through the end of June — at least — to allow the administration more time to consider changes to enforcement of its human rights policy.

A federal court judge Jan. 23 ordered the university to reinstate Business Leaders in Christ — the faith-based student organization that goes by BLinC — for 90 days, or until April 24, citing the university’s “selective enforcement” of an “otherwise reasonable” policy.

In her order, U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose indicated BLinC could then seek further action as necessary and the university could “respond by detailing any changes to the enforcement of its human rights policy to registered student organizations.”

In a motion filed and granted this month, the university said it needs more time to do that — although it promised any extension would not delay the case’s jury trial, which has been set for March 4, 2019, in U.S. District Court in Davenport.

“The university has requested additional time until June 30, 2018, to respond to the court’s order and has indicated that it will not take any action to challenge or remove BLinC’s registered status until that time,” according to the motion.

BLinC agreed to the extension but stipulated it should maintain the ability to seek further extension from the disassociation.

The group, founded in the UI Tippie College of Business in 2014, was stripped of its registered status — and thus student organization benefits — in November after a member complained to administrators that he was barred from becoming a BLinC leader for being openly gay.

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The university cited violations of its human rights policy in deregistering BLinC, pulling its access to student organization funds and campus resources, like meeting rooms and email lists. BLinC sued the university in December, accusing it of discrimination for unequally enforcing its policy — pointing to other UI groups that limit leadership to those who agree with their ideology and religious beliefs.

One such group, Imam Mahdi, reserves leadership posts for Shia Muslims — a fact Judge Rose repeatedly pointed to in granting BLinC a temporary injunction from the university’s deregistration.

In its lawsuit, BLinC argued UI guidelines and policies allow student groups to organize according to common believes and values and exercise free choice in members based on their “merits as individuals without restriction in accordance with the university police on human rights.”

The university has responded that student organization membership should be open to anyone, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, gender identity, or other protected class. UI attorney George Carroll told Rose enforcement of that policy is complaint-driven, and the university hadn’t received any other complaints.

But Rose in her January ruling wrote, “BLinC has shown that the university does not consistently and equally apply its human rights policy.”

The university hasn’t shared details about what it might be doing to shift enforcement of its policy, telling The Gazette it does not comment on pending litigation.

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