Friday, December 21, 2018

Christian Group Sues University of Iowa Over Its Inability to Reject Gay Student Leaders // Update: 5 Faith-Based Student Organizations File Support Briefs in Lawsuit Against University of Iowa // Updated Further Below...

(Originally written on 12/14/17): An organization called Business Leaders in Christ (or BLinC) has filed a lawsuit against the University of Iowa, claiming that the university violated their religious liberties last month when they revoked the group's registration as an on-campus organization. And, of course, it's all about BLinC's ability to reject gay members who date from leadership positions.

According to the lawsuit, a former member of the group filed a complaint with the University of Iowa in February 2017 claiming that he'd been denied a leadership position within the BLinC back in 2016 because he is openly gay. He also filed a similar complaint against 24:7, another Christian student group.

BLinC's president at the time Hannah Thompson admitted to denying the gay student's leadership role, but also said that he wasn't rejected as a "leader" for being gay, but for his "desire to pursue a homosexual... relationship." Long story short, BLinC was kicked off-campus. That decision has hindered its ability to function because of its ineligibility to participate in on-campus recruitment fairs, use campus facilities, or receive university funding.

BLinC has not only sued the University of Iowa, but also Dean of Students Lyn Redington, Assistant Dean of Students Thomas Baker, and IMU Executive Director William Nelson. They are seeking the reinstatement of the group's official recognition and some damages. They are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Personally, I don't care if Business Leaders for Christ can reject LGBTQ members or leaders. I find it sad that they're ecumenical enough to be led by a female president -- which would get them blackballed from most Christian traditions and denominations --, but not ecumenical enough to accept LGBTQ "leaders" (whatever that means).

And yes, I recognize that they are open to LGBTQ leaders who are celibate. Given that I've belonged to a denomination that's long supported full inclusion of LGBTQ members and leaders and that's supported full same-sex marriage rites and rights, BLinC's enlightened distinction seems terribly old-fashioned and unappealing to me.

I do find it ironic that the group is called Business Leaders in Christ. So you can be a Leader, but not a leader of the Leaders.

Anyway, check out these legal briefs when you have an hour or two. I am curious to see how this lawsuit unfolds.

Updated on 01/18/18: Five faith-based student organizations at the University of Iowa have filed briefs supporting BLinC's lawsuit against the University. Those groups include four Christian organizations (24:7, Chi Alpha, Christian Medical & Dental Associations, and Ratio Christi) and one Jewish organization (Chabad of Campus).

All of these groups are fighting hard for the right to limit the role of LGBTQ University students who want to date. These groups are very clear that they are not barring LGBTQ members, just dating members who are LGBTQ as opposed to dating members who are straight. Because LGBTQ people of faith should live celibate lives regardless of calling, while straight people of faith are free and clear to date and marry and create rich family lives. (And yes, I'm being snarky...)

Personally, I think that LGBTQ people of faith should work to create a new campus faith-based group -- one that's actually inclusive and affirming. They should create an organization that allows LGBTQ people of faith to practice their faith together and to determine their individual callings as LGBTQ people of faith, whether they truly feel called to lives of celibacy or if they feel called to marriage and family.

Updated on 01/23/18: The Des Moines Register reported today that Judge Stephanie Rose issued an order that the UI must temporarily reinstate Business Leaders in Christ's status as an approved student organization. Judge Rose noted that the university policy is not being enforced uniformly, pointing to the Imam Mahdi organization that requires its members to be Muslim and to follow specific Islamic practices.

Updated on 07/19/18: Late last month, the University of Iowa asked Judge Rose to reinstate its ban against the Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC). It cited a recent SCOTUS decision that "reinforced the principle that content neutral and generally applicable laws may infringe on certain First Amendment rights." The UI said that its Human Rights Policy is applicable for all registered student organizations. The Human Rights Policy states that student organization membership should be open to anyone, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, gender identity, or other protected classes.

Judge Rose pushed back, noting that the policy isn't equally enforced. For example, Imam Mahdi limits leadership positions to Shia Muslims. Additionally, 186 student organizations (out of 513) currently do not have full and correct human rights clauses in their constitutions.

In other words, BLinC remains an approved student organization while they await jury trial, which is currently set for March 2019.

Updated on 07/22/18: The Gazette reported yesterday that 38 University of Iowa student groups have been de-registered as officially registered organizations as a result of this court case. The courts had pointed out that the UI wasn't equally enforcing its Human Rights Policy among all student organizations. And this is the fall-out.

At least 22 of the newly de-registered student groups focus on religion, culture, and ideology. The 38 affected groups include:
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Asian Pacific American Student Association, Association of Nursing Students, Bass Fishing Team, Chinese Dance Club, Chinese in Iowa City, Christian Pharmacy Fellowship, Chinese Student Christian Fellowship, CMA EDU, Code the Change, Cookie Dokie, English Society, Financial Management Association, Geneva Campus Ministry, German Club, Hong King Student Association, Imam Mahdi Organization, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, Iowa American Student Dental Association, Japanese Students and Scholars Club, J. Reuben Clark Law Society, Korean Uiowa Students Association, Latter-Day Saint Student Association, Malaysian Student Society, MEDLIFE (Medicine, Education and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere), National Association for the Advancement of Colored Poeple, Persatuan Mahasiswa Indonesia di Amerika Serikat, Phi Beta Lambda, Public Relations Student Society of America, Red Shamrock Student Organization, Revolution Dance Company, Sikh Awareness Club, Student Iowa School Counseling Association, Students of Human Rights, Wall-Breakers, Young Americans for Liberty, and Young Life.
All of these organizations had been instructed via email on 04/20/18 to update their student constitutions to include the full and correct human rights clause. They were given another warning early last month and a final deadline of 06/15/18.

Three additional student organizations have opted to voluntarily de-register, including Global Buddies, NASP Graduate Student Organization, and Students Today, Leaders Tomorrow.

Updated on 08/06/18: Another Christian group has filed a lawsuit against the University of Iowa over the loss of its official status as a registered student organization. It's InterVarsity Christian Fellowship this time around. They are one of the 38 groups who became de-registered last month for failing to update their student constitutions to line up with the UI's Human Rights Policy.

Updated on 12/21/18: The Justice Department has filed a statement of interest backing Business Leaders in Christ' s lawsuit against the University of Iowa. The Justice Department has argued that the university violated the Christian organization's right to free speech and assembly. According to KCJJ, a Justice Department official has asserted that the UI has punished BLinC because they "did not like its message," which is unconstitutional.

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