Education

University of Iowa Christian student group seeks to dismiss remainder of lawsuit

Approval would avoid March 4 trial

Business Leaders in Christ president senior enterprise management major Jake Estell, sophomore business analytics and Spanish double major Liz Swanson and Business Leaders in Christ vice president sophomore soon to be management and marketing major Brett Eikenberry set up their display during the UI Student Organization Fair at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Business Leaders in Christ president senior enterprise management major Jake Estell, sophomore business analytics and Spanish double major Liz Swanson and Business Leaders in Christ vice president sophomore soon to be management and marketing major Brett Eikenberry set up their display during the UI Student Organization Fair at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — When a federal judge this month ruled on some of a faith-based student group’s 20 allegations against the University of Iowa — siding with students on several arguments and the university on others — she left unresolved 13 claims, keeping the case on track for a trial next month.

But attorneys representing Business Leaders in Christ — which goes by BLinC — on Monday asked the judge to dismiss the remaining counts and enter a final judgment in hopes of resolving the case two weeks before the March 4 trial.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — a Washington, D.C. firm that’s worked high-profile religious freedom cases nationally and is representing BLinC — also asked U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie M. Rose for extra time to tally its request for costs and fees.

Both sides agree, according to court documents, that by granting the request and dismissing the remaining counts, Rose in no way adversely impacts either side’s ability to appeal the court’s earlier ruling.

That ruling barred UI from deregistering BLinC for its leader-selection standards so long as it continues to allow other student groups exemptions from its human rights policy. Citing that policy, UI deregistered BLinC in late 2017 after a student said he was barred from becoming a leader for being openly gay.

That move prompted BLinC’s lawsuit, which sparked a sweeping UI review of all its more than 500 student organizations. Finding many were out of compliance, the university deregistered dozens more — resulting in a second lawsuit from InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, which was among those orgs kicked off campus.

Although Judge Rose’s order mandates the university allow BLinC back in good student-organization standing, it left open the caveat UI could reassert its deregistration so long as it treated every student group the same.

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“The injunction does not grant BLinC a special exemption if the university applies the human rights policy in a manner permitted by the Constitution,” according to Rose’s order.

Additionally, Rose sided with UI on several counts — including those regarding BLinC’s claims for damages. She ordered UI to pay a symbolic $1 to BLinC and warned against too broadly applying her findings.

“The court suspects that some observers will portray this case as a fundamental conflict between non-discrimination laws and religious liberty,” she wrote. “Appealing as that may be, it overinflates the issues before the court.”

Shortly after Rose’s order, UI attorneys filed the following statement with the court:

“Defendants deny all claims. Defendants maintain the actions against Business Leaders in Christ were based on its failure to comply with state and federal civil rights laws. Do not consider this summary as proof of any claim.”

The court has not said how, if at all, the BLinC resolution will affect the InterVarsity lawsuit, which remains set for trial in 2020.

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

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