‘Particularly when free speech is involved, the uneven application of any policy risks the most exacting standard of judicial scrutiny…’
(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) A Christian student group secured its place on the University of Iowa’s campus on Wednesday after a federal court ruled that the school had illegally discriminated against religious clubs.
The court ordered the University of Iowa to reinstate the dozens of religious student clubs it had placed on “probationary status,” including Business Leaders in Christ.
BLinC was one of 32 religious clubs the school had placed on a religious “watch-list.” The list named all of the 579 registered student groups and highlighted the religious groups because these clubs, like BLinC, require their leaders to affirm and live by their religious beliefs.
Claiming this requirement was “discriminatory,” university officials kicked off campus the student-run Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and other religious groups.
“Certainly [the school] should have been aware that their actions implicated BLinC’s First Amendment rights; and, indeed, the record shows that they were,” the court said in its ruling.
“The First Amendment’s restrictions on viewpoint discrimination apply to a limited public forum established by a university. This is true even when the viewpoint implicates a nondiscrimination policy.”
But while the court said the school itself may be expected to restrict “discriminatory” viewpoints—aka any with a religious or belief-based affiliation—in certain scenarios, the same does not hold true of its student-established groups if it interferes with or burdens their ability to exercise their rights.
“The Constitution does not tolerate the way [the University] chose to enforce the Human Rights Policy,” the court continued. “Particularly when free speech is involved, the uneven application of any policy risks the most exacting standard of judicial scrutiny, which [the school] has failed to withstand.”
Jake Estell, a member of BLinC, applauded the court’s standing up for religious freedom and preventing the University of Iowa from exerting its own viewpoint discrimination.
“We are grateful the court protected our rights today—to let us have the same right as all student groups to express our viewpoints freely on campus, and to be who we are,” Estell said in a statement.
“This victory reinforces the commonsense idea that universities can’t target religious student groups for being religious.”