Education

Christian group plans return to Iowa campus in time for Wednesday student fair

InterVarsity's attorneys announce UI reversal after federal lawsuit

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 — In response to the threat of a temporary restraining order, and after being sued last week by a second religious student organization kicked off campus, the University of Iowa temporarily has reinstated deregistered groups with religious affiliations.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — representing both the InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship and Business Leaders in Christ in suits against the UI — announced the about-face in a tweet and news release.

A spokesman with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the university, confirmed the reinstatements. A UI spokeswoman also provided an email sent to student organizations by Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers.

“Any student organization having indicated ‘spiritual and religious’ as a first, second or third category will be considered a registered student organization until the litigation against the University of Iowa involving student organizations is resolved,” Shivers wrote.

The UI student organization website on Tuesday was updated to include religious groups that were deregistered — like InterVarsity Graduate, Young Life, Imam Mahdi and Sikh Awareness Club. Other deregistered groups that do not have religious ties — even those with cultural connections, like the Korean UIowa Students Association and the Japanese Students and Scholars Club — are not back on the website.

Becket landed the reversal by arguing with UI attorneys in hopes of getting InterVarsity Graduate back on campus in time for a graduate student fair Wednesday. It had threatened to ask for a temporary restraining order.

But in response, according to Becket, UI attorney George Carroll wrote in an email, “the groups will be allowed to participate in the upcoming recruitment fair. They will remain registered pending the status of the BLinC lawsuit.”

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The university deregistered 39 student organizations in June after they failed to comply with new strict standards for compliance with the UI’s human rights policy.

UI officials imposed the stricter requirements after kicking BLinC off campus last fall for barring an openly gay member from becoming a leader. That group responded by filing a federal lawsuit that alleges discrimination, as other student groups — like InterVarsity — remained on campus despite requirements that leaders share group ideology.

A judge hasn’t decided on the merits of that case. A judge did find the university unequally enforces its human rights policy, and she ordered the university let BLinC back on campus until the lawsuit is resolved.

In an effort to more uniformly employ its human rights standards, the university over the summer notified student groups of a new requirement to update their constitutions with the “full and correct human rights clause.” Failure to do so would get them booted from campus.

Of the 356 groups that were non-compliant when the notification went out, all but 39 complied by the June 15 deadline.

InterVarsity Graduate was one of those deregistered, even though InterVarsity has two other chapters on campus that were not deregistered: Multiethnic Undergrad Hawkeye InterVarsity, known as Black Campus Ministries, and International Neighbors.

UI officials have not answered questions about how those groups are different and thus allowed to retain registered status.

InterVarsity Graduate sued last week, arguing deregistration harms the group in several ways, including blocked access to student fees and loss of equal access to graduate and professional students during orientation events and student organization fairs.

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

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