IOWA CITY, Iowa — A federal judge appointed to the bench by then-President Barack Obama has issued a temporary injunction in favor of a Christian group at the University of Iowa that had been de-recognized for not allowing a student to serve in a leadership position because he refused to adhere to the group’s biblical beliefs as they pertain to sexuality.
“Because BLinC will likely suffer a loss of First Amendment freedoms, including its freedoms of speech and expressive association, the court concludes BLinC has shown it will be irreparably harmed absent an injunction,” wrote Judge Stephanie Rose on Tuesday.
Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) had sued the University of Iowa last month after officials concluded that the group had violated its Human Rights Policy and had discriminated against the student, who wanted to serve as vice president of the Christian group.
The organization believes that “God’s intention for a sexual relationship is to be between a husband and a wife in the lifelong covenant of marriage. Every other sexual relationship beyond this is outside of God’s design and is not in keeping with God’s original plan for humanity.” Students who do not adhere to the group’s beliefs are welcome as members, but cannot hold leadership positions.
Leaders are responsible for presiding over the group in prayer and holding regular Bible studies, as well as to make decisions such as inviting area Christian business owners to speak to BLinC.
In March 2106, a male member approached one of the leaders of the group to advise that he was interested in serving as vice president. He was then asked about his walk with Christ to determine whether or not he would be able to provide spiritual leadership to BLinC.
During the discussion, the student disclosed that he was struggling to reconcile his feelings toward the same sex with his profession of faith. The two then looked at Scriptures regarding what the Bible has to say about God’s boundaries for sexual behavior, and prayed together. The student was also advised that the group’s executive board would have to decide whether or not he would be eligible for a leadership position.
The board returned a decision that leaders must agree with the teachings of the Bible and be willing to turn from any conduct that the Scriptures state are sinful. It expressed concern that the student did not appear open to refraining from acting on his temptations toward the same sex.
A BLinC leader then asked the student if he would adhere to the group’s beliefs regarding sexual conduct, and he advised that he conversely intended on seeking out a same-sex relationship.
He was consequently advised that such a decision would prohibit him from serving in leadership because it conflicted with the organization’s biblical morals. It was also outlined to the student that he was not being denied the position simply because of his homosexual inclinations, but because he willfully intended to act on them rather than following the Bible as a professing Christian.
The student soon filed a complaint with the university, stating that he was being discriminated against because he was “openly gay” and requested that the group either be forced to allow homosexual leaders or that their registration status be revoked.
University officials investigated the matter and concluded that BLinC was in violation of the school’s Human Rights Policy. One official asked that the group put its beliefs in writing, and in doing so, to make it clear that BLinC does not discriminate based on one’s so-called “sexual orientation.” BLinC therefore submitted a statement of faith (part of which is outlined above), and noted that prospective leaders would be required to sign an affirmation.
“As I hold an executive position with Business Leaders in Christ, I commit to live a life in which I turn from my sin and actively choose the biblical principles of godly sanctification and righteousness,” it reads. “If and when I misstep, I will confess my struggle to God and to a member of the Business Leaders in Christ executive board acknowledging that I choose to receive grace and forgiveness from God and from others, and turn from my sin.”
However, the statement of faith was still deemed to be discriminatory by officials and the group was asked to make further changes. As BLinC chose not to change its requirement prohibiting leaders from purposefully and willfully living in sin, the group’s status was revoked and an appeal was rejected.
The University of Iowa’s decision to revoke official recognition of the student group meant that it would no longer be allowed to use university facilities and would not be entitled to any funding.
BLinC therefore took the matter to the courts, requesting an immediate reprieve so it could participate in the student organization fair on Jan. 24, from which it would otherwise be excluded. On Jan. 23, Judge Rose issued a ruling concluding that while the university’s Human Rights Policy was on its face permissible, it had not been equally applied.
She agreed with evidence presented by BLinC that a student group known as Imam Mahdi requires its leaders to be Muslim, and more specifically, Shiea.
“This raises an issue regarding whether BLinC’s viewpoint was the reason it was not allowed to operate with membership requirements that the university had determined violated the policy, while at the same time Imam Mahdi was not subjected to any enforcement action,” Rose wrote.
She also found that an injunction was in the public interest.
“If the court did not issue an injunction, BLinC would likely suffer a loss in First Amendment rights, which is undoubtedly a significant harm,” Rose stated, but added, “An injunction may not affect Defendants inasmuch as it may impact the University community by exposing members of the student body to discrimination.”
“The court orders Defendants to restore BLinC to registered student organization status for ninety days. Following this ninety-day period, BLinC may seek further action as necessary, and Defendants may respond by detailing any changes to the enforcement of its Human Rights Policy to registered student organizations,” she ordered.
Attorneys for the student group said this week that the ruling was a step in the right direction.
“The university would never let Iowa State’s Cy the Cardinal lead the Hawkeyes,” also noted Jacob Estell, BLinC student president. “So why would it think it is okay to force religious student groups to select leaders who don’t embrace their mission?”