Court Finds University 'Targeted' Religious Student Groups

Jul 20, 2021

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously ruled The University of Iowa discriminated against InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and violated the student group’s First Amendment rights.

In 2018, InterVarsity sued The University of Iowa after the school discriminately deregistered InterVarsity along with other student groups because the groups required their leaders to agree to a statement of faith. The university stated this violated its Human Rights Policy, yet “other groups were permitted to base membership on sex, race, veteran status, and even some religious beliefs.”

One such student group is LoveWorks, which requires leaders and members to sign a “gay-affirming statement of Christian faith.” Unlike InterVarsity, LoveWorks was not deregistered.

A federal district court ruled the university violated InterVarsity’s First Amendment rights. The university then appealed to the 8th Circuit, which affirmed the district court’s ruling.

“We are hard-pressed to find a clearer example of viewpoint discrimination,” wrote Circuit Judge Jonathan A. Kobes on behalf of the court’s three-judge panel. “ … The University’s choice to selectively apply the Human Rights Policy against InterVarsity suggests a preference for certain viewpoints—like those of LoveWorks—over InterVarsity’s. The University focused its ‘clean up’ on specific religious groups and then selectively applied the Human Rights Policy against them. Other groups were simply glossed over or ignored.”

In addition to the university being liable, the court found the individual school officials liable for their actions. 

“The University and individual defendants turned a blind eye to decades of First Amendment jurisprudence or they proceeded full speed ahead knowing they were violating the law,” the appeals court said. “Either way, qualified immunity provides no safe haven.”

This is one of three recent victories for religious student groups at universities.

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