A few months ago, we discussed the ruling against the University of Iowa in Bus. Leaders in Christ v. Univ. of Iowa, 991 F.3d 969 (8th Cir. 2021) where the court held that we held that the law was clearly established that the University could not engage in viewpoint discrimination involving a Christian club. In a July 16 decision, the Eighth Circuit affirmed that the University of Iowa administrators violated the First Amendment rights of a second group, the InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship. While the group allowed anyone to join, it required its leaders to adhere to core Christian values. It is another major victory for religious rights and their counsel the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. It is also a serious rebuke of the University which defiantly continued to discriminate at not just great cost to these students but the university as a whole.
In the prior case, the University of Iowa targeted religious student organizations for discriminatory enforcement of its Human Rights Policy. After it was blocked by a district court ordered, the University proceeded to commit that same discriminatory acts by deregistering the InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship.
The Eighth Circuit found that the university allowed other clubs to have exclusionary rules but suddenly cracked down on this group.
The University permits RSOs to base membership and leadership on specific traits protected under the Human Rights Policy. For example, sports clubs and Greek organizations may hinge membership and leadership on sex, and the a cappella group, the “Hawkapellas,” is limited to women. Some groups prefer or require membership in a racial group. Other groups require their members to be United States military veterans or subscribe to a certain ideological viewpoint or mission.
However, there was suddenly no accommodation permitted for the Christian group:
Over twenty-five years, Iowa had no problem with InterVarsity. But in June 2018, Andrew Kutcher charged that InterVarsity’s constitution violated the Human Rights Policy. InterVarsity’s leader, Katrina Schrock, responded that the constitution did not prevent anyone from joining if they did not subscribe to the group’s faith, but that only its leaders were required to affirm their statement of faith. Kutcher countered that “[h]aving a restriction on leadership related to religious beliefs is contradictory to [the Human Rights Policy].”
The court rejected the qualified immunity claims of the university as a type of repeated unconstitutional offender.
What the University did here was clearly unconstitutional. It targeted religious groups for differential treatment under the Human Rights Policy—while carving out exemptions and ignoring other violative groups with missions they presumably supported. 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. Either way, qualified immunity provides no safe haven.
Here is the opinion: IVCF v. Iowa