The Trump administration on Friday alleged the University of Iowa violated a student group’s constitutional rights when it kicked the organization off campus for denying a leadership position to an openly gay student.
In a statement of interest, the Justice Department said the school’s actions is a “text book violation” of the First Amendment rights to free association and free speech.
Members of the conservative Christian group Business Leaders in Christ denied an openly gay student the vice president position back in 2016 because his lifestyle was not in line with the group’s religious views.
The university claimed the move violated its human rights policy, which bars denying a student membership to a group based on race, gender or sexual identity. It deregistered the Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) as a student organization, stripping it of the right to participate in the student activity fair, use the university website or use university space for meetings and events.
BLinC filed a lawsuit against the school, arguing that it was within its constitutional rights as a religious student group to deny a leadership position and it has the right to operate by its statement with faith.
In the lawsuit, BLinC highlighted other student groups as examples. Imam Mahdi, a Muslim student group, only allows Shia Muslims to hold leadership positions; the UI Feminist Unions, which limits membership to those who agree with its principles, including support for abortion; and Students for Life, which requires members to have pro-life beliefs.
BLinC said the fact that it was singled out amounts to “selective enforcement.”
The Trump administration appears to agree. In a 29-page filing in an Iowa federal court, the Justice Department said the school’s stance is hypocritical because it allows other student organizations to restrict memberships based on belief.
“The University’s selective application of the Human Rights Policy to discriminate against BLinC’s message and viewpoint violates BLinC’s First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise,” Justice Department lawyers wrote.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ordered the university to temporarily reinstate the 14-member club while its lawsuit was pending.
U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose agreed with BLinC’s argument that the university has engaged in “selective enforcement.”
“BLinC has shown that the university does not consistently and equally apply its Human Rights Policy,” Judge Rose wrote.