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At the University of Iowa, a victory for religious freedom

A court rules that—surprise!—the university can’t discriminate against religious students

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa ruled this week that the University of Iowa may not discriminate against its religious students. That seems like it should be self-evident, but you would be surprised at what a modern American university will try and get away with.

The school had previously stripped a Christian group of its official status because the group required its members to adhere to Christian values. Then, for good measure, the university compiled a “watch list” of over 30 religious student groups “that it had placed on probation simply for requiring its leaders to follow their beliefs,” according to the law firm that handled the Christian group’s case.

The court determined that a public university, funded by taxpayer dollars and bound by nondiscrimination statutes and constitutional precedent, should stop doing that. The judges were right, of course; public institutions are obliged to treat all citizens fairly and equitably, and running conservative groups off campus because they don’t ascribe to campus orthodoxy is rather far from equitable treatment.

What is dismayingly instructive here is this: The University of Iowa is likely not an outlier at all. Universities and colleges are overwhelmingly staffed, run and ordered by progressives and liberals, many of whom tend to take a dim view of religious orthodoxy, particularly Christian orthodoxy. A student group that adheres to any of those hoary old tenets of sexual morality, for instance—beliefs held by pretty much everyone up until about six months ago—is seen as a dense barrier to progress. Driving such groups off campus is a predictable response.

A federal court has ruled that this is not an acceptable practice; that is a welcome development. This doesn’t end religious discrimination on campuses across the country, of course. But it sends a good signal nevertheless. Higher education should take note.

MORE: Religious freedom win: Christian group can hold employees to behavior rules

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