University of Iowa's Message for Christian Groups on Campus

Posted: Aug 09, 2018 1:00 PM

When the University of Iowa told Christian members of InterVarsity Fellowship that they could no longer require their leaders to be Christians, the on-campus club had little choice. They shut down.

Now, they’re suing the university.

The lawsuit, filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, states that on June 1, the university “abruptly emailed InterVarsity’s student leaders and instructed them that they had until June 15 to change their leadership-selection practices or be deregistered.”

InterVarsity responded by “emphasizing the importance of having Christian leadership” for the Christian club, but claims the school rejected the explanation.

“The university further stated that InterVarsity student leaders could not even be ‘strongly encouraged’ to agree with InterVarsity’s faith,” the lawsuit went on to say.

And according to an August 6 statement from Becket senior counsel Daniel Blomberg, the college is out of line.

“Banning religious groups from having religious leaders just flattens diversity and impoverishes the campus,” Blomberg said. “Universities should allow students the space to form their own groups that challenge and grow their sincere beliefs.”

InterVarsity Fellowship isn’t the only religious club that has been kicked off campus.

The aggressive push by the university to place restrictions on religious clubs reportedly began last year, when the Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) club was decertified over its requirement that club leaders adhere to traditional biblical views on marriage. University officials demanded that BLinC revise its statement of faith, in order to be more LGBTQ inclusive. When the club refused and was decertified, a judge ruled that the University of Iowa was not applying their demands uniformly, and that BLinC could continue recruiting on-campus, after all.   

But two months ago, the University of Iowa found a workaround when they announced that all clubs will need to act in accordance with the Human Rights Policy, which says groups may not discriminate based on things such as sexual orientation, gender, or religious beliefs.

As a result, nearly 40 student groups have had to deregister from the University of Iowa, due to the new and restrictive policies surrounding religious leadership positions. Those groups include the Latter-day Saint Student Association, the Sikh Awareness Club, and the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship.

While the school has allegedly banned these groups for not adhering to its anti-discrimination policy, Blomberg notes that the University of Iowa “has exempted or ignored leadership and membership restrictions set by other student groups, such as sports clubs, fraternities, and political organizations.”  

Becket’s goal in filing the lawsuit is to have InterVarsity reinstated at the university within the year.

In a prepared statement, student president of the university’s InterVarsity group, Kristna Schrock, expressed her hopes for the club’s future. 

“We’re grateful to have been part of the university community for 25 years, and we think that the university has been a richer place for having Sikh, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, atheist, and Christian groups. Because we love our school, we hope it reconsiders and lets religious groups continue to authentically reflect their religious roots.”