Univ. admits putting religious student groups on 'watch list'

The University of Iowa admitted on Friday in court that it maintains a campus “watch list” of 32 groups – each one religious – with every one of the student groups put on probationary status.

One of the student groups, Business Leaders in Christ student group (BLinC), is being represented by the non-profit legal group, Becket, in the lawsuit BLinC v. University of Iowa, and it is alleging that the university is discriminating against students on the watch list based on their religious views and affiliation.

Drop your faith at the campus gate

“[T]he university kicked Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) off campus for requiring its leaders to affirm and follow its faith,” Becket announced in its press release Tuesday. “The disclosure was made in response to the court’s demand that the university identify all groups it had deregistered late last year and the reasons why.”

Even though the university boasts that it endorses inclusion, it insists that Christian student groups and other religious groups on campus violate the school’s human rights code – as well as the Iowa Civil Rights Act – for expressing their faith on campus.

“The university’s human rights policy bars discrimination on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender among other identifiers,” The Christian Post (CP) reported, noting that the 32 were de-registered because of their leadership policies. “In the case of Christian groups that were de-registered, they hold policies that require leaders in the group to be Christian and affirm and live in accordance with the groups’ statements of faith.”

Of the 579 registered student groups on the Iowa campus, only 32 religious ones were placed on probationary status – including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh groups, but the hundreds of secular groups suffered no issues with their status.

“[W]hile these religious groups were targeted, the university admitted that it still grants full registered status to dozens of secular groups, which explicitly restrict or control access to leadership or membership based on race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and U.S. military service,” Becket informed. “The watch list is the latest evidence confirming that the university has been singling out religious groups and discriminating against them.”

Becket Vice President and Senior Counsel Eric Baxter was outraged to see the state’s largest publicly funded university flagrantly target students for their religious views while violating their constitutionally protected right to express and live out their faith.

“For a public institution to single out religious student groups and threaten their expulsion is textbook Big Brother,” Baxter argued. “The university’s blatant double-standard and its desire to target and track religious groups in the name of ‘nondiscrimination’ – while ignoring dozens of other bigger groups who engage in more so-called ‘discrimination’ – is doublethink that would make the Ministry of Truth blush.”

No religious direction here …

School officials insist that no specific religious beliefs or practices can be prescribed for students to carry out on campus.

“The university claims that religious groups cannot even ‘encourage’ their leaders to uphold a group’s specific faith, saying it would violate the university’s policy against religious discrimination, yet the university allows other student groups to select leaders and members who align with each group’s mission, including fraternities, sports clubs, musical groups, advocacy organizations, political groups, and minority support groups – only flagging religious groups for monitoring,” the press release pointed out. “Thus, for example, the university is allowing the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, Chinese Dance Club, Chinese in Iowa City group, and Chinese Music Club to remain on campus, while the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship is threatened to be kicked off campus.”

Baxter saw this as nothing short of absurd and unconstitutional.

“For an institution handing out Ph.D.’s, the university displays an embarrassing ignorance of our nation’s first liberty,” Baxter asserted. “The First Amendment prohibits the university from telling religious groups who can be their leaders, especially while allowing every other group on campus free reign to pick their leaders – and in many instances their members, too.”

Justifying discrimination?

University of Iowa officials attest the legal group representing the students that is dedicated to defending First Amendment rights has it all wrong when it comes to discrimination.

“[Baxter has] blatantly misrepresented the facts and documentation submitted to the court by the University of Iowa,” a university statement obtained by CP reads. “All religious organizations remain in registered status while the court decides – and ultimately directs – the university on how it should address the conflict that currently exists between the First Amendment and the Iowa Civil Rights Act.”

School officials still insist that they have nothing wrong.

“[Registered religious and faith-based student groups continue to have] full access to all benefits, funding, facilities and resources that are offered to all other student organizations on campus,” the statement continues. “Therefore, the university has not placed any religious student organization on ‘probationary status’ as insinuated by BLinC’s legal counsel. [T]he University of Iowa does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in accordance with federal and state law.”

However, Becket Media Relations Manager Ryan Colby utterly disagreed with the university’s interpretation of matter.

"The document filed by the university on Friday only underscores its discrimination," Colby told Fox News. "It shows that if the university wins, religious organizations will be subject to deregistration for requiring their leaders to be [adherents]. It also shows that all other organizations – dozens of which screen their leaders based on sex or other categories [protected by] the Human Rights Policy – are not being subjected to any review, and will not be even after the lawsuits are over. If that is not religious discrimination, we eagerly await for the university to tell us what it is. Indeed, two years already, and still waiting."

Following the oral arguments that took place last Friday, a decision in the lawsuit is now slated for some time this spring.

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