The University of Iowa will pay nearly $2 million to settle discrimination lawsuits with two Christian student groups that have been deregistered because of their faith-based practices.
The Iowa State Appeal Board on Dec. 6 unanimously approved a court-ordered settlement to Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based law firm that represented both student groups in their lawsuits against the public university. Most of the money will cover attorney fees for each group.
The first group, Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), barred a member from serving in a leading position after he came out as gay. In response to a complaint by the student, the university stripped BLinC’s status as a registered student organization, effectively denying the group’s access to university funding and campus resources.
BLinC sued in 2017, alleging that the university had violated its religious freedom to select only leaders who are aligned with the group’s interpretation of biblical teachings. The university, on the other hand, accused BLinC of violating the school’s human rights policy and the Iowa Civil Rights Act when it removed a member from his leadership role because of his sexual orientation.
After a federal court sided with BLinC and ordered its reinstatement, the university deregistered 39 student groups it deemed in violation of its human rights policy. Among the casualties of the sweeping action were the Sikh Awareness Club, the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship, the Imam Mahdi Organization, the Latter-day Saint Student Association, and the InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, which sued the university in 2018 for discrimination.
The lower court rulings in favor of the Christian students were upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, which found that the university had engaged in viewpoint discrimination when it failed to fairly apply its own non-discrimination policy to all campus groups. The Circuit judges also found that university leaders were personally liable for knowingly violating established constitutional rights.
Under terms of settlements ordered by the U.S. District Court of Southern Iowa, the state of Iowa will pay a total of $1.93 million on behalf of the public university. That includes $1.37 million and $534,000 to Becket for attorney fees and expenses in the BLinC and InterVarsity cases, respectively, $1 for damages from each defendant to The Becket Fund for BLinC, and $20,000 in damages to The Becket Fund for InterVarsity.
Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said the university could have avoided the very costly lawsuits.
“When university officials target students of faith, it comes at a price,” Baxter told The Epoch Times in a statement. “The blatant discrimination against religious students at the University of Iowa was entirely preventable. The University of Iowa had several off-ramps early in the case, including direct warnings from the court to stop the religious targeting. Instead, it doubled down with its attacks against Protestant groups by adding Sikhs, Muslims, Latter-day Saints, and others to their target list.
“The University has paid the price, and other universities should think twice before treating religious student groups like second-class citizens,” he said.