A second federal court has ruled against University of Iowa’s punishment of InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship
University officials cannot be exempt from punishment for their decision to punish a Christian student group after it refused to allow an openly gay student to hold a leadership role.
The July 16 decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a September 2019 decision that found University of Iowa administrators violated the First Amendment rights of InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship. The students were represented by the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The university refused to recognize the Christian group, but did approve a different group that require students to affirm support for same-sex relationship
IVGCF’s club is open to everyone, but it does require student leaders to affirm “the basic biblical truths of Christianity,” including marriage as the union of one man and one marriage.
The court explained:
Over twenty-five years, Iowa had no problem with InterVarsity. But in June 2018, Andrew Kutcher charged that InterVarsity’s constitution violated the Human Rights Policy. InterVarsity’s leader, Katrina Schrock, responded that the constitution did not prevent anyone from joining if they did not subscribe to the group’s faith, but that only its leaders were required to affirm their statement of faith. Kutcher countered that “[h]aving a restriction on leadership related to religious beliefs is contradictory to [the Human Rights Policy].”
The Human Rights Policy forbid discrimination based on “race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, service in the U.S. military, sexual orientation [or] gender identity.”
As a conservative Christian organization, IVGCF’s internal policies forbid someone from being a leader if they openly supported homosexuality and gay marriage, for example.
“The University and individual defendants turned a blind eye to decades of First Amendment jurisprudence or they proceeded full speed ahead knowing they were violating the law,” the judges said. “Either way, qualified immunity provides no safe haven.”
“Schools are supposed to be a place of free inquiry and open thought,” Becket Fund attorney Daniel Blomberg said, “but the school officials here punished opinions they didn’t like and promoted ones they did—all while using taxpayer dollars to do it.”