The Justice Department filed a Statement of Interest in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa last week supporting the claim of a student group, Business Leaders in Christ, that the University of Iowa violated its First Amendment rights when it de-registered the group for requiring its student group leadership to sign a statement of faith. The government argues in its Statement of Interest that the University violated BLinC’s First Amendment rights to free association and free speech.
“As the Department of Justice has repeatedly emphasized over the last two years, public universities are legally required by to protect the First Amendment rights of students,” said Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio. “Unfortunately, too many schools are ignoring their legal obligations—and they are also undermining the very purpose of a university education, which is to advance learning through a free and robust exchange of ideas. The American people expect that their tax dollars will fund administrators and faculty who respect the Constitution. The Department of Justice will continue to get involved in these kinds of cases until this alarming trend is reversed.”
“The First Amendment freedoms of association, speech, and religion prohibit public colleges and universities from suppressing the expression and beliefs of student groups that officials disagree with,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “The University of Iowa in this case de-registered Business Leaders in Christ because university officials did not like its message. That is forbidden by the Constitution.”
The case, Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) v. University of Iowa, involves a Christian student group at the University of Iowa Tippie School of Business, Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC). University policies prohibit student groups from discriminating on a wide range of bases, including sexual orientation and gender identity. BLinC puts no limitations on regular general membership, but requires group leadership to sign and abide by its statement of faith, including a belief that sexual relations should only occur between a husband and wife. The University acknowledged that BLinC did not discriminate against anyone who wanted to sign and abide by the statement of faith, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the University claims that BLinC’s statement of faith makes LGBT persons unwelcome and therefore excludes them. However, the University freely admits that it allows registered student organizations to express viewpoints on sexual relationships and gender identity that differ from BLinC’s viewpoint.
Due to the University’s disagreement with BLinC’s statement of faith, the University de-registered BLinC, stripping it of the right to participate in the student activity fair, use the university website, or use university space for meetings and events on an equal basis with other student groups. BLinC filed a lawsuit in December 2017.
The United States’ Statement of Interest argues that the University’s treatment of BLinC violated the Constitution in three ways. First, the University violated BLinC’s right of expressive association, which forbids exclusion of groups on the ground that officials find their views abhorrent. Second, that the University discriminated against BLinC based on its views on sexuality in violation of the fundamental free-speech principle the keeps the government from discriminating based on differing viewpoints. Finally, the government argues that it violated BLinC’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by discriminating against its religious beliefs.