Ops Blog | What do First Amendment rights guarantee student organizations?

The Daily Iowan Opinions Staff discusses the settlement from two lawsuits that dealt with First Amendment rights.


Graphic by Kelsey Harrell

DI Opinions Staff

Shahab Khan (Opinions Columnist): So, the University of Iowa was embroiled in two First Amendment lawsuits about religious freedom.

Hannah Pinski (Opinions and Amplify Editor): Indeed. One of them was from 2017 and involved Business Leaders in Christ, also known as BLinC, and the other was from 2018 from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. The Eighth Circuit Court ordered that the UI pay $1.93 million for attorney fees and damages.

Shahab: Looking through the details of the case, these groups were both deregistered by the university.

For BLinC, it started when an LGBTQ+ member was blocked from becoming a leader when he didn’t affirm that same-sex marriages are against the Bible.

Meanwhile, Intervarsity sued after Andrew Kutcher, the former coordinator for student organizations development, notified the group that their constitution violated the UI’s human rights policy by barring non-Christians from leadership roles.

Hannah: Although the rulings have already been made, I’m sure the settlement money is going to spark debate again in the community over these decisions. I think it’s important to look at this from a moral and legal standpoint because they are two different perspectives.

Shahab: Right, I agree with you on that part. Oftentimes, when law is discussed, conversations tend to assume that legality implies that the law is moral. However, as many jurists have noted over the time, it is important to recognize that morality is not necessarily an antecedent for legality.

Hannah: What are your thoughts from the moral perspective?

Shahab: We have to recognize that this decision represents the conundrum when it comes to squaring morality with our constitution. The beauty and limitation of the First Amendment is that it protects speech of all people regardless of their moral system—unless that moral system calls for causing injury to people.

In the eyes of BLinC and Intervarsity, by shunning the LGBTQ+ community, they are preserving their moral tradition against what they see as immoral behavior. In my opinion, the “moral tradition” that these groups want to protect is a backward and dangerous system that facilitates discrimination against people who do not identify as Christian.

I guess what I am trying to get at is that there is tension in the liberal principles that guide our constitution and my own ethical philosophy requires that I tolerate the rights of the “other side” to express themselves. Even if those views are grounded in bigotry.

Hannah: From the legal perspective, the student organizations had a much stronger argument than the university. These organizations do have First Amendment rights. If other student organizations such as other religious groups or women’s leadership groups are allowed to restrict leadership based on things like gender or ideology, then it would be hypocritical to not allow Christian organizations to do so.

Shahab: Yeah, I agree with you there, based on how our current legal system interprets the First Amendment, the student organizations do have a stronger case to make. That being said, it is also worthwhile to remember that what the discrimination that these groups are promoting shows the limits of our legal system in litigating morality.


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.’