University of Iowa Engaged in “Viewpoint Discrimination” When De-Registering Christian Group

July 26, 2021

A federal appeals court has ruled that the University of Iowa violated the free-speech rights of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCP) by de-registering the Christian organization.

While all students are welcome to attend IVCP events, leadership positions are restricted to those who subscribe to the organization’s statement of faith.

This restriction of leadership positions to professing Christians was in the view of the University of Iowa, which de-registered IVCP in 2018, a form of discrimination.

The appeal court upheld the right of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to require leaders to subscribe to a Christian statement of faith.

However, in a decision issued on July 16, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the university had acted unconstitutionally in violating IVCP’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Circuit Judge Jonathan Kobes also stated that the university had itself engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” by not applying the same standard to other student societies. Several organizations were allowed to require that their members hold particular views and opinions.

The court was told that university administrators overseeing student societies were instructed to “look at religious student groups first” and did not apply the same criteria to other groups.

“What the university did here was clearly unconstitutional,” continued Judge Kobes. “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.”

In April, a federal appellate court ruled that Wayne State University in Detroit had behaved unconstitutionally in de-registering IVCP for the same reasons.

The court decision in that case stated that it was “discriminatory” for the university to expect a Christian student organization to appoint non-Christians into positions of leadership.

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