Federal judge orders UI to restore official status of Christian group suing the university

Photo by John via Flickr

On Tuesday, a federal district court judge ordered the University of Iowa to reinstate Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) as an official student organization for 90 days. The 10-member organization was stripped of its status in November, following an investigation by university officials of a compliant by a former group member. That student claimed the group refused to allow him to serve as its vice president because he is gay.

BLinC is suing UI over its loss of status, claiming the university violated its right to religious liberty. The group claims it did not prevent the former member who complained from serving in a leadership role because he is gay, but because he disagreed with the group’s version of Christianity, in which God only approves of sexual relationships between men and women.

University officials concluded BLinC had discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation in violatation of the UI’s Human Rights Policy, which all officially recognized student organizations are required to follow. The university doesn’t prohibit student organizations that don’t qualify for official status, but that status allows organizations to use various university facilities and receive funds from the University of Iowa Student Government.

As part of its lawsuit, BLinC requested a preliminary injunction immediately reinstating it as recognized student organization, so it could participate in the Student Organization Fair on Jan. 24.

In her order granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Stephanie M. Rose noted that UI grants official student organization status to the Imam Mahdi organization, a faith-based group for Muslim students. According to the group’s constitution, in order to be a full member a person must be “Muslim, Shiea [sic], and obtain the recommendation of two Members.”

Since the UI allows the Imam Mahdi organization to use a religious requirement to determine who qualifies for full membership, “the Court must conclude on the current record that BLinC has shown that the University does not consistently and equally apply its Human Rights Policy,” Judge Rose wrote.

The judge explained that “In light of this selective enforcement, the Court finds BLinC has established the requisite fair chance of prevailing on the merits” in its lawsuit and was therefore entitled to injunctive relief.

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