The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday in InterVarsity v. University of Iowa that America’s universities cannot force Christian student groups to accept non-Christians into leadership roles.
“What the University did here was clearly unconstitutional,” the court’s opinion stated. “It targeted religious groups for differential treatment under the Human Rights Policy—while carving out exemptions and ignoring other violative groups with missions [the University] presumably supported.”
The ruling marks the third victory for Christian students against discriminatory university administrators since March, according to a a press release from the religious-freedom watchdog Becket, which represented the students.
The District Court for Southern Iowa and the District Court for Eastern Michigan reached similar rulings this March and April in BLinC v. University of Iowa and InterVarsity v. Wayne State, respectively.
“Schools are supposed to be a place of free inquiry and open thought, but the school officials here punished opinions they didn’t like and promoted ones they did—all while using taxpayer dollars to do it,” said Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at Becket.
InterVarsity v. University of Iowa began when administrators revoked InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship’s registration—along with those of Muslim and Sikh student organizations—for mandating that their leaders profess the religion around which each group was based.
The University of Iowa claimed InterVarsity’s policy discriminated against non-Christians.
The university admitted that non-religious organizations, such as fraternities and sororities, could select their own criteria for leadership roles and general admission.
The Eighth Circuit Court summarized the university’s unconstitutional and anti-religious behavior.
“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,” the court said.
To ensure that the same unconstitutional, anti-Christian behavior does not emerge again in the future, the Eighth Circuit Court warned university administrators that qualified immunity will not protect them if they “make calculated choices about enacting or enforcing [such] unconstitutional policies.”
In the future, federal courts could punish individual administrators for violating students’ First Amendment rights.