In a unanimous decision, the federal court for the 8th Circuit held that administrators at the University of Iowa are violating the First Amendment by removing Christian, Muslim, and Sikh student organizations for choosing student leaders who share the group’s mission and values. The court’s ruling of InterVarsity v. University of Iowa follows a series of recent decisions that uphold the First Amendment’s free exercise clause and specifically rejects skewed applications of anti-discrimination policies based on a leader’s viewpoints.
What is this case about?
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has thrived on the University of Iowa’s campus for 25 years with the mission of “courageously proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior, engaging in discipleship around Scripture, and loving people of every ethnicity and culture.” The University of Iowa chapter of InterVarsity has been recognized for its excellence in community service and student engagement, but on June 1, 2018, the university threatened deregistration for violating nondiscrimination policies.
It is only logical for an organization’s leaders to share its beliefs and priorities, and the process of determining a leader’s position based on his or her ability to further a group’s mission has never been deemed “discriminatory,” at least not under the law. After InterVarsity responded with a reasonable appeal and explanation, the university deregistered the group and barred it from operating on campus. The university went as far as to say the group was engaging in discriminatory activity by simply “encouraging” students to live by a shared mission.
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