University of Iowa appeals federal ruling school violated rights of Christian group

The University of Iowa is appealing a decision by a federal court that officials there violated the religious expression rights of a Christian organization by selectively enforcing school policies.

The court also ruled that UI administrators would have to pay out of their own pockets an damages that are subsequently awarded to the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which lost its status in 2018 as a Registered Student Organization because it asked its leaders to affirm the group’s faith statement.

Administrators said that violated the school’s human rights policy.

But U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose said in her ruling that other student groups were not held to the same standard.

The three administrators — Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers, Associate Dean of Student Organizations William Nelson and Coordinator for Student Organization Development Andrew Kutcher — understood from an earlier order she issued in 2018 in a similar lawsuit that they could not apply the policy inconsistently, Rose noted in her ruling.

Lawyers for the university filed a notice that the defendants will appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a statement, UI noted that the school had rewritten its human rights policy to note that groups could now require leaders “to agree to and support” their beliefs.

“This change is in alignment with a new state law and Board of Regents policy addressing student organizations and the First Amendment,” the statement says. “The University of Iowa has always respected the right of students, faculty and staff to practice the religion of their choice.”

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