A federal court has ruled in favour of a Christian student group banned for its discriminatory leadership requirements. (Stock photograph via Elements Envato)
A judge has ruled that University of Iowa administrators can be sued by a Christian student group that was placed under a ban for religious homophobia.
In 2017, a Business Leaders in Christ group was dismantled by the university after it withdrew a leadership position from a student because he was gay and opposed its teachings on sexuality.
District judges in 2019 said that the university unevenly applied its human rights policy by barring the business group. They ordered the college to restore the Business Leaders in Christ group, which the University of Iowa sought to appeal.
But in a fresh blow to LGBT+ rights in college campuses, a federal appeals court has ruled in favour of the student group, according to court documents.
The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the previous ruling that university administrators violated Business Leaders in Christ members’ right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Moreover, the court overturned immunity from damages granted by the lower court, meaning that administrators are now liable for monetary damages to the Business Leaders in Christ.
Now, lower courts will determine what damages the administers must pay.
Federal court rules against Iowa University officials who tried to stamp out homophobia
The years-long legal battle started when Business Leaders in Christ rowed back on its leadership offer to a gay sophomore, Marcus Miller, whose sexuality went against the group’s religious teaching.
Miller hit back by filing a complaint to the university, alleging that they had discriminated against him as a result.
Administrators moved to remove the group from campus, arguing that its requirement for leaders regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity stonewalled some students from applying.
In response, Business Leaders in Christ lodged a lawsuit, vaulting them and the university into the South District Court of Iowa and pitting queer rights against religious freedoms.
The court ruled in 2019 that the university “violated” the group’s first amendment rights and prohibited the university from enforcing its human rights policies, court papers said.
Moreover, the university was made to keep the group as a registered student organisation. Without it, the group would have been severed from campus life, including student activity fairs and recruitment fairs.
But the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals has now ruled that the district court “erred in granting qualified immunity to the individual defendants “.
In flipping this earlier decision, this means that the administrators – dean of students Lyn Redington, assistant dean Thomas Baker and Iowa Memorial Union executive director William Nelson – can be ordered to pay financial damages.