Iowa to pay Christian groups $2 million to settle discrimination complaints


An Iowa board said Monday the state will pay almost $2 million to settle two federal lawsuits alleging “viewpoint discrimination” by the University of Iowa against evangelical student groups that required their leaders to adhere to Christian beliefs.

The student groups — Business Leaders in Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship — filed the federal lawsuits in 2017. The university had delisted them after a gay student complained to school officials that the business club rejected him for a leadership post because he would not affirm the club’s view that marriage is a union for a man and a woman only.

A federal court ruled in favor of the student groups, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed the lower court rulings.

On Nov. 10, U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose ordered the university to pay $1.37 million in legal fees in the Business Leaders in Christ case and nearly $534,000 in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship case. The business group also received $3 in damages from three university officials; Judge Rose awarded $20,000 in damages to the other group.

The Iowa State Appeal Board approved the court-ordered settlements on Monday.

“We’re grateful that settlement covers the financial cost of the litigation,” Greg Jao, vice president for communications and mobilization at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “But the reality is, it does not make up for the losses experienced by the students on campus, as they fought for the ability to serve the campus freely.”

Asked for comment, university media relations director Anne Bassett said via email: “The University of Iowa is supportive of the religious freedom of our students.”

Eric Baxter is vice president and senior counsel at Becket Law, which represented both student groups.

“When university officials target students of faith, it comes at a price. The blatant discrimination against religious students at the University of Iowa was entirely preventable. The University of Iowa had several off-ramps early in the case, including direct warnings from the court to stop the religious targeting. Instead, it doubled down with its attacks against Protestant groups by adding Sikhs, Muslims, Latter-day Saints, and others to their target list,” Mr. Baxter said. “Now, the University has paid the price, and other universities should think twice before treating religious student groups like second-class citizens.”

— This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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