March 2018 Church & State - March 2018

Judge Reinstates Iowa Christian Student Group That Rejected Gay Member

  Liz Hayes

A federal judge ordered the University of Iowa to temporarily reinstate a conservative Christian student group that had denied a leadership position to a gay student.

The university had revoked its official recognition of Business Leaders in Christ (BLIC) in November in response to the group’s rejection of student Marcus Miller as its vice president because he refused to affirm a statement of faith rejecting homosexuality, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

The university said it revoked the group’s status because it does not tolerate discrimination.

The 10-member club sued and, on Jan. 23, U.S. District Judge Steph­anie Rose agreed to issue a 90-day preliminary injunction that temporarily reinstated the club. Rose said the club would suffer the loss of First Amendment freedoms without her intervention. She also said the university doesn’t uniformly enforce its policy, pointing to the Imam Mahdi student group that requires members to be Muslim and to respect religious rules and practices.

University recognition means BLIC can once again participate in the university recruiting fair and have access to campus meeting spaces. Two days after the decision, the Press-Citizen reported the club was participating in the fair.

“We stay true to conservative Christian values,” club President Jacob Estell told the newspaper.

Miller, the student BLIC rejected, formed a student group called Love Works, which meets twice a month to volunteer and talk about the relationship between Christianity and social justice, according to the Press-Citizen.

“I think in a time when there is so much division and so much hurt in the world, it’s a good time and space for reflection, and to talk about very difficult conversations,” Miller said. “It’s helpful in processing with others. That’s kind of the value. We live in a pretty chaotic world.”

Meanwhile, several state legislatures are considering bills that would allow student groups to cite religious beliefs as justification to discriminate and would prevent colleges and universities from enforcing their nondiscrimination policies or risk losing public funding. AU’s Protect Thy Neighbor project is mon­itoring such proposals in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia.

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