UI ordered to pay nearly $2 million after lawsuit over deregistering two religious student organizations

Four years after the University of Iowa deregistered two religious student organizations, the Iowa State Appeal Board has approved payments of nearly $2 million to the organizations. The amount will cover the costs for the attorneys of both groups as well as damages.


Jeff Sigmund

Old Capital as seen on April 13, 2020.

Kate Perez, News Reporter

The Iowa State Appeal Board approved two orders from the U.S. District Court on Monday, ordering the University of Iowa to pay nearly $2 million in lawsuits against the University of Iowa for deregistering two religious student organizations in 2017.

The first student organization, Business Leaders in Christ, known as BLinC, was deregistered in 2017 after the UI claimed it violated the university’s Human Rights Policy by revoking the leadership position of an openly gay member after being made aware of his sexual orientation.

The group then filed a lawsuit claiming the UI violated their freedom of speech and the Court of Appeals ruled in their favor in March. Court of Appeals Judge Jonathan Allen Kobes wrote in the ruling “administrators at the University of Iowa discriminated against religious student groups.”

The second group, the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, filed a lawsuit against the UI in 2018 after the group was dismantled when the university conducted a school-wide wipeout of student organizations that violated the Human Rights Policy.

Joseph Barry, risk manager for the Iowa State Appeal Board, said the three State Appeal Board members voted unanimously to authorize payment for the two judgments.

“[The court] ruled in favor of both student organizations, Business Leaders in Christ and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship,” Barry said. “The board members heard our Solicitor General and legal counsel Jeffrey Thompson go into detail about the First Amendment rights and what both cases truly involved, and the board members agreed to pay the judgments.”

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

The state will pay nearly $2 million in total:

  • $1,373,210.51 to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the law firm that represented BLinC and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
  • $1 for damages from each defendant to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for BLinC
  • $20,000 in damages to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
  • $533,508.47 for attorney fees and expenses to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship

Most of the money will cover the cost of the attorneys for each group, Barry said.

“Out of state attorneys represent them and its billing per hour. Out of state attorneys run X amount per hour involved,” Barry said. “There were over 850, 870 hours that were billed.”

The attorney fees from the BLinC case are based on 2,233.5 hours of work, with the cost being from $759 to $914 an hour.

From the Intervarsity case, the attorney fees are based on 873 hours in total with costs also ranging from $759 to $914 an hour.

Overall, the costs were fully explained to the State Board of Appeals before they voted.

“It was fully explained by our legal representative to the board members,” Barry said. “They agreed and voted on it unanimously.”