“The Defendants Could Pick Their Poison”: Christian Group Scores Important Legal Victory Against University of Iowa

A Christian group in the University of Iowa scored a major win this week Ahead of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. 

In an opinion (under ) with sweeping possible effect, the court reversed District Court judge Stephanie Rose and mastered that University of Iowa officials can be held personally liable for targeting a Christian club and denying the rights of free speech and association. The University finally didn’t appeal findings that it violated the rights of the religious group and all these students in its discriminatory use of university policies.
At issue is the disparate treatment shown a religious group, Company Leaders in Christ or BLinC. The University of Iowa registers student organizations under its”Registration of Student Organizations” (RSO) policy. The coverage requires compliance with national, state, and college rules. That doesn’t include an”all-comers” rule (mandating acceptance of any and all interested pupils ) but does include the University’s Human Rights Policy. That policy says, in relevant part:

The University of Iowa brings together in common pursuit of its instructional aims persons of many countries, races, and creeds. The University is guided by the precepts which in no aspect of its programs shall there are gaps between the treatment of persons due to race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, and disability, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, service in the U.S. army, sexual orientation, gender identity, associational tastes, or some other classification that deprives the person of consideration as a person, and equal opportunity and access to facilities shall be available for all.

In Addition, it Comprises a nondiscrimination clause:

Membership and participation in the business must be open to all students without regard to race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, and disability, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, service in the U.S. army, sexual orientation, gender equality, associational tastes, or some other classification that deprives the person of consideration as a person.

However, this clause was implemented differently depending upon the group. The Eighth Circuit noted that at least six RSOs expressly limit access to leadership or membership based on race, creed, color, religion, sex, and other characteristics which the Human Rights Policy protects. This includes Love Works that requires leaders to signal a”gay-affirming statement of Christian faith.”  Likewise, the House of Lorde retains membership”interview[s]” to keep”a space for Black Queer people and/or the support ” and also the Chinese Students and Scholars Association limits membership to”enrolled Chinese Students and Scholars.”
As it registered as an RSO, BLinC declared that it”was founded as a religious organization to help’seekers of Christ’ learn’the way to keep Christ first in the fast paced business world. ”’ BLinC’s officials lead their associates in prayer and Bible discussion. Consequently, the group leaders display prospective officers”to make certain they agree with and may represent the group’s religious beliefs.”
In March 2016, Marcus Miller, a BLinC manhood, requested the then group president about getting an officer for another school year. In later talks, Miller revealed he was gay and, as stated by the courtroom,”informed Thompson that he had been fighting with the Bible’s instructions on this subject” After internal debate, the group decided that Miller should not lead the group as an officer in religious talks due to a fundamental disagreement with their beliefs.

Meetings were held with University Compliance Coordinator Constance Shriver Cervantes and then-Associate Dean of Students Thomas Baker. Cervantes set forward a distinction in rejecting the group’s claim that it was blocking Miller because of his resistance to the group’s religious beliefs:

This included discussion of the”gap between discriminating on the grounds of’standing’ and choosing leaders based on’faith’ and’behaviour. ”’  Both Cervantes and Baker are lawyers. … Dr. Nelson and Dean Baker agreed a student group might require its leaders to abstain from sexual relationships outside of marriageor abstain only from same-sex relationships–if the need”was applicable to all.” Dr. Nelson afterwards testified that BLinC wouldn’t have violated the Human Rights Policy in case it had denied Miller a leadership position based on his debate with BLinC’s”religious philosophy” instead of his position as a gay man.

The University required that BLinC rewrite its Constitution to be clear about its principles and expectations for members and officials.  The group did so approved a Record of Faith beneath the heading”Doctrine of Personal Integrity,” supplying:

Every other sexual connection beyond this is outside of God’s design and isn’t in keeping with God’s original plan for humankind. We feel that each person should embrace, not refuse, their God-given sexual intercourse. Id.

Additionally, it clarified the process for being chosen as an officer and also the requirement which BLinC’s leaders”take and seek to reside BLinC’s religious beliefs.”
However, Nelson still resisted the group’s program, saying that the group failed to”comply with the University’s Human Right’s policy because its own affirmation, as required by the Constitution for leadership positions, would have the effect of disqualifying certain people from leadership positions based on sexual orientation or gender identity, both of which can be protected classifications.”
At a later decision affirming the denial, Dr. Lyn Redington, then-Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students agreed that the group was discriminatory even though the University later confessed that”a pupil could’publicly admit’ or recognize as being gay and still be [a] leader with BLinC as long as the pupil agreed with, and’agreed to live by, BLinC’s statement of faith. ”’ But , the University whined that”the’openly gay’ person would have to regard his or her innate appeal to members of the identical sex as’sinful’ in order to participate as a member of BLinC’s leadership team.”
District Court Judge Stephanie Rose ruled in favour of the group in finding that the University of Iowa did violate BLinC’s First Amendment rights to free speech, expressive association, and free exercise through their disparate use of the University’s Human Rights Policy.  The University didn’t appeal those customs. However, Rose also ruled that these officials couldn’t be sued personally beneath immunity protections.  She was reversed concerning the speech and association claims by the law court.
In holding that these officials (such as those such as Cervantes who remains in the same position) can be personally sued, the Eighth Circuit delivered this haymaker:

The legislation is clear: country associations may not target religious groups for differential treatment or withhold a differently available benefit solely because they are religious. That is what happened . The individual defendants might choose their poison: they are plainly incompetent or they intentionally violated the Constitution. In any event, they should not get qualified resistance.

The conclusion might have deep effects on universities.  There is a frequent criticism that officials may run unpopular groups throughout endless hearings or methods to discourage them from looking for official recognition or appealing decisions. There is also a frequent criticism that religious or conservative groups are handled differently in these controversies.
There’s not any cost to the officials as people in taking such actions. On the other hand, the Eighth Circuit is saying they can be personally liable in taking such actions.  Such accountability is unlikely absent the violation of established rules or policies.
The Eighth Circuit ruled that these officials ignored clear and established law in taking this discriminatory action:

The rule out of Lukumi and also Fraternal Order clearly demonstrates that granting secular but not religious exemptions by some neutral coverage violates the Free Exercise Clause. But if those cases were not sufficient, the Supreme Court’s conclusion in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer places the question beyond discussion. 137 S. Ct. 2012 (2017). Missouri provided grants to licensed organizations to resurface playgrounds. Id. In 2017. Trinity Lutheran functioned a religious lecture and employed for a grant but was turned away because the Missouri Constitution prohibited the state from donating funds to religious associations. Id. In 2017–18. The Court held that if the State resisted an otherwise normally available advantage”solely due to religious identity” without satisfying rigorous scrutiny, it violates the Free Exercise Clause. Id. In 2019.

The judgment now creates a personal cost to the usage of college ability to discriminate against groups such as BLinC.
It isn’t clear if the University will appeal. University officials and private counsel cost the university dearly in forcing this contentious right into lawsuit. Now they need to choose whether to twice — a decision which other universities might oppose.
The case isn’t perfect as a test case for the Supreme Court granted the unappealed judgment the University of Iowa did violate the Constitution in discriminatory contrary to the bunch. Thus, these officials have been claiming that, despite these blatant discrimination and the violation of controlling case law of the Supreme Court, they should not be personally liable for such unconstitutional behaviour.  There will likely be a few justices inclined to encourage the college but a reduction before the Supreme Court would create this is national precedent — something other universities won’t relish.
Though it stands, the judgment is a Significant victory for this particular group and its counsel, Eric S. Baxter and Daniel H. Blomberg of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Addition to Christopher C. Hagenow and William R. Gustoff  of Hagenow & Gustoff, LLP.

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