In Iowa, a federal judge fines university officials for anti-religious discrimination. So where's the coverage?

I’ve been following a strange case at the University of Iowa where officials have gone after –- with a vengeance — about a dozen religious groups that have the temerity to appoint like-minded people as their leaders.

That is discrimination, the university said, before it kicked these groups off campus because some of them were not allowing sexually active gay students as their leaders. One of the groups –- Business Leaders in Christ –- sued and won.

Just this week, up came a second case: InterVarsity v. University of Iowa, after InterVarsity likewise sued for being ejected from campus after 25 years.

When I first wrote up these cases in February, I trashed the coverage in Inside Higher Education, which vilified the conservatives and exonerated the university even though the judge was telling the university it was dead wrong. Thus, I looked to see how media covered the most recent decision to get handed down and was surprised at how little there was outside state lines.

Even inside Iowa, the coverage wasn’t overwhelming. From the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

A second University of Iowa student group that promotes Christian beliefs has won a court ruling saying that UI acted unlawfully in deciding its standards for leaders' religious beliefs violated school policy.

U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose also ruled that — because UI administrators should have understood after her rulings in the previous case how to be fair to the groups — at least three university officials will be personally liable for any damages awarded to the plaintiffs.

Wait — does that mean the erring university officials must pay for all this out of their own pockets? That’s a very interesting news hook.

Apparently so, says CBN:

In a stunning decision, a federal judge has ruled that officials at the University of Iowa violated the law when they kicked InterVarsity Christian Fellowship off their campus and that they are personally responsible for costs incurred by InterVarsity in defending its rights.

InterVarsity had been on the University of Iowa campus for over 25 years. But in 2018, the University expelled the group from the U of I campus for insisting that anyone in leadership must affirm its Christian beliefs. The University claimed that requirement was discriminatory.

Along with InterVarsity, UI kicked other religious groups off campus as well — including Sikhs, Muslims, and Latter-Day Saints — all for requiring the same thing of its leaders, simply that they embrace the groups' core beliefs.

Inside Higher Education, whose Oct. 1 piece was better than the piece I critiqued earlier this year, stressed how peeved the judge was. Judge Rose is an Obama appointee, by the way. That would be an interesting angle for national coverage, as well.

Be sure to read all of this and mull over how the judge wants to teach these administrators a lesson.

The biggest difference between the two cases, though, comes in the judge's conclusion about liability for campus administrators. In the business leaders' case, the court determined that university officials deserved qualified immunity, because "the university's compelling interests in the human rights policy, along with the university setting," differentiated that case from previous legal precedents that prohibit "selective application of a nondiscrimination policy."

The InterVarsity case was different, Rose ruled. Once the judge ruled as she did, issuing the preliminary injunction in the business leaders' case in January 2018, Iowa officials were bound by precedential federal law not to "selectively enforce its human rights policy against a religious student group." But that's precisely what they did, Rose said, in de-registering InterVarsity that June.

Rose ruled that several Iowa officials -- Melissa S. Shivers, vice president for student life; William R. Nelson, associate dean of student organizations; and Andrew Kutcher, coordinator for student organization development -- "each understood the preliminary injunction to mean that the university could not selectively enforce the Human Rights Policy against some RSOs but not others." As a result, the judge said, they do not qualify for immunity and could face financial damages at a later stage of the proceedings.

Curiously, I see no coverage in the Des Moines Register, the state’s largest paper, about this case.

Months ago, it had run an editorial supporting the university. If you read it, notice how the writer misreads what the Business Leaders in Christ case was about. It was not about denying gay students all participation in groups. It did have to do with barring such a student from leadership because the student was fundamentally opposed to the group’s doctrines.

Back to the judge’s buffeting of school officials: Why is there silence on this story elsewhere in the media? The judge’s ruling is quite unusual; it sets precedent and it comes from a source no one expected would defend the rights of religious groups to choose their own leaders.

What if other judges took notice and fined people who were using political correctness as an ax to chop away at groups they didn’t agree with? There are implications here. And yet, the story doesn’t get much circulation, possibly because there’s a lot of newspapers out there — like the Des Moines Register — led by executives who disagree with the judge, so won’t give the story much, if any space.

If the university had won, would this case have been held up as an example of victory for gay rights?

Since the ruling didn’t go in that direction, are big newsrooms just letting this one go? It feels like it, doesn’t it?

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