UI denied immunity in InterVarsity case, actions ruled unconstitutional

In 2018, a UI religious student organization filed a suit against UI. This is the second time that UI has been in a case revolving around religious freedoms. The U.S Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled unanimously that UI’s actions to deregister a club are unconstitutional.

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The Old Capitol building is seen on March, 6, 2021.

Emily Delgado, News Reporter


The United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled on July 16 that the actions of University of Iowa administration was unconstitutional.

Though the district court told UI to stop enforcing a policy against one religious group they still deregistered InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, Circuit Judge Jonathan Kobes said in the official statement.

“On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court held that University employees violated InterVarsity’s First Amendment rights and denied qualified immunity,” Kobes said.

InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship is a religious organization at the UI, inviting grad students and faculty to practice their Christianity together in group events and gatherings.

In 2018, the organization filed a suit against the UI after it emailed InterVarsity. The email said that the criteria of requiring leaders to be a part of the Christian faith is a discriminatory clause, Daniel Blomberg, attorney who argued the case in the district court and at the court of appeals said.

In response, InterVarsity wrote they could strongly recommend that leaders be a part of the Christian faith, Blomberg said.

“They responded and said, ‘No, we can’t allow that you have any sort of requirement or even request that your leaders actually share the faith of the group that they’re going to be leading,” Blomberg said.

The UI’s justification for deregistering the organization was that InterVarsity was discriminating against students by requiring leaders to be a part of Christian faith.

RELATED: Federal court of appeals rules against University of Iowa in religious student organization case

“And as far as community, a university wants to really be truly one that’s diverse and equitable, then it has to allow such groups to both exist, and to function equally,” IVGCF member Kevin Kummer said.

The UI Office of Strategic Communications wrote in a release from September 2019 that the UI revised their student organization policy to allow student organizations to require their officers to support the club’s beliefs.

“The university respects the decision of the court and will move forward in accordance with the decision,” Anne Bassett, Director of Media Relations, said in an email to The Daily Iowan. 

In a press release from Becket Law, a counsel on the InterVarsity case, stated that the UI allows other organizations to consider a student’s sex, race, or ideology in selection of the club membership, such as fraternities, sororities and political, activist groups.

This is the third case where a religious student group won on the grounds of religious discrimination.

Another case with UI involvement, Business Leaders in Christ v. University of Iowa, produced a similar ruling, as previously reported by the DI.

Blomberg said it was a shock that the UI deregistered InterVarsity in the first place.

“The First Amendment case law on this is very clear that you can’t discriminate against religious student groups, you have to treat them fairly and equally,” Blomberg said.

InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship has had a good relationship with UI for the last 25 years it has been a part of campus, Kummer said.

“I think the case sends a very strong message to school officials,” Blomberg said. “They have to stop discriminating against religious student groups, they have to treat religious student groups equally and fairly.”

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