Press Release

University publishes religious watch-list If you’re a religious student group, the University of Iowa is watching you

Media Contact

Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 media@becketlaw.org

Additional Information

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The University of Iowa admitted in court Friday it has a watch list of 32 groups – all religious – that it  has placed on a “probationary status.” The list just came to light in BLinC v. University of Iowa, where the university kicked Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) off campus for requiring its leaders to affirm and follow its faith. The disclosure was made in response to the court’s demand that the university identify all groups it had deregistered late last year and the reasons why.

The university’s list of the 579 registered student groups on campus highlights only the names of Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and other religious student clubs, placing them on probationary status. Yet while these religious groups were targeted, the university admitted that it still grants full registered status to dozens of secular groups, which explicitly restrict or control access to leadership or membership based on race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and U.S. military service. The watch list is the latest evidence confirming that the university has been singling out religious groups and discriminating against them.

“For a public institution to single out religious student groups and threaten their expulsion is textbook Big Brother,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represents BLinC. “The university’s blatant double-standard and its desire to target and track religious groups in the name of ‘nondiscrimination,’ while ignoring dozens of other bigger groups who engage in more so-called ‘discrimination,’ is doublethink that would make the Ministry of Truth blush.”

The university claims that religious groups cannot even “encourage” their leaders to uphold a group’s specific faith, saying it would violate the university’s policy against religious discrimination. Yet the university allows other student groups to select leaders and members who align with each group’s mission, including fraternities, sports clubs, musical groups, advocacy organizations, political groups, and minority support groups—only flagging religious groups for monitoring. Thus, for example, the university is allowing the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, Chinese Dance Club, Chinese in Iowa City group, and Chinese Music Club to remain on campus, while the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship is threatened to be kicked off campus.

“For an institution handing out Ph.D.’s, the university displays an embarrassing ignorance of our nation’s first liberty,” said Baxter. “The First Amendment prohibits the university from telling religious groups who can be their leaders, especially while allowing every other group on campus free reign to pick their leaders—and in many instances their members too.”

Oral argument in the case was heard in federal district court in Des Moines, Iowa on February 1, 2019. A decision is expected in the spring.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Melinda Skea at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).