Gay students clashing with Christian clubs: Inside Higher Ed needs more balanced coverage

Usually I like the articles that Inside Higher Education comes up with, but its recent piece about a lawsuit involving the University of Iowa was so biased, I first thought it had appeared in a college newspaper.

The intro read thus: “Judge says university cannot deny recognition because of antigay rules. But decision says main flaw at Iowa is inconsistent enforcement, not the rules themselves.” As in, it’s wrong to use one standard for religious groups and another for secular causes?

Why is believing that marriage between a man and a woman — a concept supported by every major religion for thousands of years — automatically “anti-gay?” That slur tints the article, which continues:

A Christian student group at the University of Iowa can’t be stripped of its affiliation with the institution, even if its members follow a “statement of faith” that bans those in LGBTQ relationships from leadership roles, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The decision by Judge Stephanie M. Rose has alarmed advocates for queer men and women. They are worried it would open the door for a challenge of a U.S. Supreme Court case from 2010 that allows colleges and universities to enforce anti-discrimination policies, even when student religious organizations claim those policies infringe on their beliefs. That ruling requires colleges that want to enforce such anti-bias rules to apply them to all groups equally. Judge Rose's decision, however, suggests that her ruling may be relevant only to circumstances at Iowa.

But how did the other side respond to the ruling? We’re not told up front.

The clash between Iowa officials and Business Leaders in Christ began in 2016.

A gay student had approached the then president, Hannah Thompson, about becoming vice president and, during a discussion, disclosed to her his sexuality.

Did this student just show up from out of nowhere or was he a part of this business club? We’re not told. (This Associated Press piece on the matter says he was.)

The student, whose name has never been publicly released, was denied the leadership post. Thompson said this was because of his “desire to pursue a homosexual lifestyle/relationship,” according to court documents.

In 2017, the gay student filed a complaint with the university, asking administrators to take away Business Leaders in Christ's status as a recognized student group unless it followed the university’s antidiscrimination rules (which include allowing LGBTQ students to be club leaders).

The university decided the business group was discriminatory and revoked their right to reserve space on campus and to have access to student activities funds (which all clubs get a part of). The business group sued the university and three faculty.

This sort of thing has gone on at other universities (see this link for a list) and usually the Christian groups have come out the losers.

Read this link about Tufts University and this more recent story about Wayne State University kicking out InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after the latter insisted that its leaders had to be Christians. The ensuing lawsuit from InterVarsity pointed out that female clubs were allowed to have only female leaders; the Ahmadiyya Muslim students were allowed to have only Muslim leaders, etc., and that the university was singling them out.

Rose wrote that while there was nothing illegal about the university’s human rights policy, it had been inconsistently applied.

Rose, an appointee of President Obama, wrote that other student groups seem to have rules that violate the policy. The Chinese Students and Scholars Association limits membership to Chinese students. The Iowa Hawkapellas, an a capella group, only accepts women. And Iowa’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild excludes students with certain political viewpoints, an administrator testified.

I looked at the Cedar Rapids Gazette in a piece that ran months ago , and noticed that the judge made a ruling on the case last summer.

The university had reviewed how many other campus organizations were following its human rights policy, only to learn that of the 513 groups, only 157 were in compliance. So, about 350 groups were told they had to insert a human rights clause in their constitutions that forbade sex discrimination, gender, race, etc. As of last June, 186 groups, including sororities and fraternities, were holding out. Some 40 groups were eventually deregistered. Mormon, Muslim and Sikh groups were targeted.

Sounds like political correctness ran amok here.

This more recent Gazette piece updates the issue, so it sounds like there were two rulings in here somewhere. And it included some scathing comments from the judge. They are worth noting

But “the university has approved the constitutions of numerous organizations that explicitly limit access to leadership or membership based on religious views, race, sex, and other characteristics,” according to Rose’s ruling.

She listed examples: Love Works, which requires leaders to sign a “gay-affirming statement of Christian faith;” 24-7, which requires leaders to sign a statement of faith and live according to a code of conduct; House of Lorde, which conducts membership interviews to maintain “a space for black queer individuals;” and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which restricts membership to Chinese students and scholars. …

Throughout the legal battle, according to Rose, UI administrators have admitted to allowing some groups to select members and leaders based on protected class if the ideology of those groups aligned with the institution’s mission.

In other words, if the group’s ideology agreed with that of certain university administrators?

“The undisputed evidence shows BLinC was prevented from expressing its viewpoints on protected characteristics while other student groups ‘espousing another viewpoint (were) permitted to do so,’” wrote Rose, who added, “The University allows Love Works to limit leadership to individuals who share its religious beliefs on homosexuality. But BLinC may not.”

This is exactly the argument that campus religious groups around the country have been saying for years. Muslim and Jewish groups haven’t been sued or approached by gay students demanding access to their leadership roles whereas Christian groups have had an onslaught of such incidents.

What's so annoying about the Inside Higher Ed piece is that the writer threw in a paragraph of reaction from a lawyer representing the Christian group, then spent several paragraphs philosophizing on why the judge’s rulings rolled back protections for gay students.

Also note that the judge’s decision is not only pertaining to the University of Iowa. Although the writer makes his bias known in the piece, he is right that this ruling is going to be applied elsewhere, not for its “anti-gay” properties but because it’s common sense and, well, the First Amendment exists. Any voluntary association, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, environmentalists or the campus feminists, deserves to choose leaders who affirm the doctrines in the group’s bylaws.

Some reporters might want to remember that when they cover this ongoing battle.

Please respect our Commenting Policy