University of Iowa engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” when de-registering Christian union

26 July 2021

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A federal appeals court has ruled that the University of Iowa violated the free-speech rights of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) by de-registering the Christian organisation.

While all students are welcome to attend IVCF events, leadership positions are restricted to those who subscribe to the organisation’s statement of faith.

This restriction of leadership positions to professing Christians was in the view of the University of Iowa, which de-registered IVCF in 2018, a form of discrimination.

The appeal court upheld the right of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to require leaders to subscribe to a Christian statement of faith

However, in a decision issued on 16 July 2021 the US Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the university had acted unconstitutionally in violating IVCF’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Circuit Judge Jonathan Kobes also stated that the university had itself engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” by not applying the same standard to other student societies. Several organisations were allowed to require that their members hold particular views and opinions.

The court was told that university administrators overseeing student societies were instructed to “look at religious student groups first” and did not apply the same criteria to other groups.

“What the university did here was clearly unconstitutional,” continued Judge Kobes. “It targeted religious groups for differential treatment under the Human Rights Policy, while carving out exemptions and ignoring other violative groups with missions they presumably supported.”

In April 2021 a federal appeal court ruled that Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan had behaved unconstitutionally in de-registering IVCF for the same reasons.

The court decision in that case stated that it was “discriminatory” for the university to expect a Christian student organisation to appoint non-Christians into positions of leadership.

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