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A university has decided to ban student religious groups from requiring their leaders to hold their religious beliefs – and like another case just weeks ago – it also is ending up in court.

Officials with Becket have confirmed a lawsuit is being prepared against the University of Iowa over its decision the banish Intervarsity Christian Fellowship from its campus – because the group requires its leaders to be Christian.

The school also kicked off a number of other groups, including the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship, the Latter-day Saint Student Association and the Sikh Awareness Club.

But Becket said it is filing a lawsuit, already prepared, against the school, President Bruce Harreld, Student Life Vice President Melissa Shivers and other officials including William Nelson, Andrew Kutcher and Thomas Baker.

“InterVarsity has been a part of campus life for 25 years, welcoming all students as members. But like the over-500 other student groups on campus, it has a distinct mission and asks its leaders to embrace that mission,” Becket reported.

“In June, the university abruptly ordered the group to drop its religious leadership standards within two weeks, stating that leaders could not even be ‘strongly encouraged’ to share its faith. And in late July, after InterVarsity explained why it couldn’t eliminate its leadership standards, the university officially deregistered the group, along with dozens of other religious and ideological student groups.”

“We’re grateful to have been part of the university community for 25 years, and we think that the university has been a richer place for having Sikh, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, atheist, and Christian groups,” said Kristina Schrock, student president of InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship. “Because we love our school, we hope it reconsiders and lets religious groups continue to authentically reflect their religious roots.”

The university claims the Intervarsity practice violates its nondiscrimination policies, as it wants anyone in the university, Satanist, atheist, Buddhist, Muslim or Sikh, to be eligible to govern the Christian organization.

It already welcomes all as members, but the school said that’s not enough.

Meanwhile, Becket reported, the school has “ignored leadership and membership restrictions set by other student groups, such as sports clubs, fraternities, and political organizations.”

“If public universities really want to foster an intellectually diverse environment, this isn’t how to do it,” said Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at Becket, which is representing InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. “Universities should allow students the space to form their own groups that challenge and grow their sincere beliefs. Banning religious groups from having religious leaders just flattens diversity and impoverishes the campus.”

The lawsuit is challenging the “unconstitutional and unlawful discrimination by the University of Iowa … against plaintiff Intervarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship.

The fight is over Intervarsity asking its student leaders – “who lead the group in prayer, worship, and religious teaching – to hold the same faith that animates and unites the group.”

Actually, the argument explains, “preventing plaintiffs from creating space for students of like-minded beliefs violates, not upholds, the university’s published policies.”

WND reported only weeks earlier on a fight Becket was pursuing against Wayne State in Michigan over the same issue.

There, Michigan Gov. Richard Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette have been dismissed as defendants in a lawsuit by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after they agreed that a state university is discriminating against a Christian group on campus.

The university later allowed InterVarsity to return, but the legal case continues over the policy.

Becket, which represents the student group, said Snyder and Schuette were dismissed as defendants in the case because they stated Michigan universities “must respect the rights of religious student groups to choose their own leaders.”

Becket said the announcement “comes as a blow” to Detroit-based Wayne State, which claims InterVarsity cannot restrict its leadership to students who adhere to its foundational beliefs, even though the university gives that liberty to more than 90 other student groups.

“This is a great day for religious freedom and free speech in Michigan,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette have recognized that state universities can’t discriminate against religious student groups. We hope Wayne State will take notice.”

 

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