Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 25, 2021

8th Circuit Again Finds University Of Iowa Administrators Personally Liable For Deregistering Christian Student Group That Required Leaders To Affirm 'Basic Biblical Truths Of Christianity'

Following up on my previous post, 8th Circuit: University Of Iowa Administrators Are Personally Liable For Deregistering Christian Student Group After It Denied Leadership Role To Gay StudentIntervarsity Christian Fellowship v. University of Iowa, No. 19-3389 (8th Cir. July 16, 2021):

Iowa Logo (2019)Employees of the University of Iowa targeted religious student organizations for discriminatory enforcement of its Human Rights Policy. After the district court ordered it to stop selectively enforcing the policy against one religious group, the University deregistered another—InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship. InterVarsity filed suit. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court held that University employees violated InterVarsity’s First Amendment rights and denied qualified immunity. We affirm. ...

InterVarsity has been active at the University for over twenty-five years. The group is affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, “a national ministry” to “establish university-based witnessing communities of students and faculty who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord, and who are growing in love for God, God’s Word, and God’s people of every ethnicity and culture.”

Membership and participation in the University’s chapter of InterVarsity is open to all students, but those who seek leadership roles are required to affirm a statement of faith, which includes “the basic biblical truths of Christianity.”

Over twenty-five years, Iowa had no problem with InterVarsity. But in June 2018, [the University] charged that InterVarsity’s constitution violated the Human Rights Policy. ... [T]he University deregistered the group a few weeks later.

We are hard-pressed to find a clearer example of viewpoint discrimination. The University’s choice to selectively apply the Human Rights Policy against InterVarsity suggests a preference for certain viewpoints ...  over InterVarsity’s. ...

What the University did here was clearly unconstitutional. It targeted religious groups for differential treatment under the Human Rights Policy—while carving out exemptions and ignoring other violative groups with missions they presumably supported. 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. Either way, qualified immunity provides no safe haven.

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