Judge Rules Christian Student Group Has The Right To Discriminate Against Gay Members

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that The University of Iowa was wrong to take away a Christian student group’s registered status because it barred a gay student from a leadership role, reports NBC News.

Judge Stephanie M. Rose granted a permanent injunction that forces the school to recognize Business Leaders in Christ as a registered student organization after the university revoked the group’s registered status because it barred a gay student from a leadership position. The university claimed that the group violated its human rights policy.

Judge Rose said that the University of Iowa didn’t enforce the policy equally and allowed other groups to discriminated based on protected characteristics.

“The Constitution does not tolerate the way defendants chose to enforce the human rights policy,” the decision said. “Particularly when free speech is involved, the uneven application of any policy risks the most exacting standard of judicial scrutiny, which the defendants have failed to withstand.”

“We are grateful the court protected our rights today—to let us have the same right as all student groups to express our viewpoints freely on campus, and to be who we are,” said Business Leaders in Christ member Jake Estell in a press release. “This victory reinforces the commonsense idea that universities can’t target religious student groups for being religious.”

“We are reviewing the ruling and will follow the court order,” a university spokesperson said in an email.

“The university has maintained the registered status of all religious and faith-based groups allowing them full access to all benefits, funding, facilities, and resources that are offered to all other student organizations on campus,” the university said in a previous statement. “The University of Iowa does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in accordance with federal and state law.”

Leaders of the student group must sign a “statement of faith” that says that sexual relationships should only be between a married husband and wife, according to court documents.

NBC News notes:

The registration loss meant Business Leaders in Christ could no longer reserve campus meeting space, participate in student recruitment fairs, access funds from student activity fees or use university-wide communication services. Business Leaders in Christ sued the university, arguing that its membership is open to all students but that leaders must affirm a statement of faith that includes rejecting homosexuality.

Rose in January 2018 ordered the group to be temporarily reinstated while the lawsuit was pending. The U.S. Justice Department in December filed a “statement of interest” backing the group, arguing that the university had violated its free speech and assembly rights.