WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a supportive statement of interest in a federal court case involving 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.
“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,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband with the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “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.”
As previously reported, the group Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) had sued the University of Iowa last December 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, and was granted a temporary injunction earlier this year while the case moves forward.
In its legal filings this month, the U.S. Department of Justice argued that the University of Iowa had engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, singling out the group because of its views on sexuality.
“[T]he university’s deregistration of BLinC was viewpoint discriminatory,” it wrote. “This unilateral decreeing of which perspectives are acceptable to the university is classic viewpoint discrimination—as the university’s deregistration of BLinC demonstrates.”
The DOJ noted that other groups had been approved that required its members and leaders to affirm homosexuality and transgenderism.
“[T]he university admits that it has registered other student organizations that require their members and leaders to affirm adherence to an opposing perspective on the issues of sexual relationships and gender identity,” it argued. “For example, the university has registered Love Works, which requires ‘leaders to sign a gay-affirming statement of Christian faith’ …”
“The university deregistered BLinC because it found BLinC’s statement of faith to be ‘unwelcoming,’ and offered to re-register BLinC if it changed its statement of faith to conform to university orthodoxy. This mandate that BLinC ‘renounce its religious character in order to participate in an otherwise generally available public benefit program, for which it is fully qualified,’ alone triggers heightened scrutiny,” the DOJ declared.
Kyle Apple, an economics student at the University of Iowa, told Campus Reform that he was glad to see the government intervene in the matter.
“We’ve seen the university suppress the free speech rights of Christians and conservatives on campus for years, and it’s about time that the government steps in to tell them that their actions are unconstitutional,” he stated. “All students, regardless of religious or political affiliation, deserve to have a voice on campus. If the university tries to take that away, it’s only right for the government to come in and end those discriminatory practices.”