The university revoked the Business Leaders in Christ, or BLINC registration because the group wouldn’t allow a gay member to be a leader. The group is suing the University of Iowa for religious discrimination. The group’s Attorney, Eric Baxter, says many registered student organizations only allow people with certain beliefs to be leaders.
“A group cannot speak except through its leaders. And so if its leaders don’t embrace its mission, that changes its message,” Baxter says. “So, it does screen leaders based on their belief. But no one is screened because of their status of who they are.” The university’s attorney argues the group violated its human rights policy and the Iowa Civil Rights Act. The President of Business Leaders in Christ, Jake Estell, says he and other members of the group want to be treated the same as other student groups.
“The university wouldn’t force an environmental group to select a climate change deferrer as a leader. Or a Muslim group to select a Christian student as its leader. Or a pro-choice group to have pro-life leaders,” Estell says. “BLINC just wants to have the same right to chose leaders who actually affirm its beliefs.”
The university’s lawyer had several exchanges with the judge about whether the non-discrimination policy is enforced consistently among student groups. For example, an Islamic group requires members and leaders to sign a statement of faith. But the university’s attorney responded by saying no one has filed a complaint about that group, and it’s still officially registered.
BLINC’s lawyer Baxter says being a registered group allows them to get $25 a month for publishing and money for trips to a conference, which are mandatory funds the students themselves contribute to the school.
“We are just asking that they be able to participate and receive funds back just like everybody else does,” according to Baxter. “But more important is their access to students to recruit students, to let them know about their organization, to have the opportunity to invite them to participate in the group. And they are being entirely cut out of that process.” Baxter feels good after presenting the case to the judge.
“I am optimistic that the court is going to grant the injunction. She clearly understood that the university is targeting BLINC,” Baxter says. “There are other organizations that require their leaders to embrace their mission and the university has done nothing against them. And the judge clearly understood that and seemed concerned, and the university’s council clearly had no response to that.”
BLINC wants to participate in a recruitment fair scheduled at the end of the month. The judge plans to rule in about one week.
(By Michelle O’Neill, WVIK, Rock Island)