Operations Blog | What do First Amendment rights guarantee to student organizations?

Daily Iowan Opinions staff discuss the settlement of two lawsuits involving First Amendment rights.


Shahab Khan (Opinion Columnist): For example, the University of Iowa has been involved in two First Amendment lawsuits involving religious liberty.

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

Shahab: Going through the details of the case, these groups were both expelled by the university.

For BlinC, it started when an LGBTQ+ member was blocked from becoming a leader when he didn’t say same-sex marriages were against the Bible.

During this time, Interuniversity sued after Andrew Kutcher, the former coordinator of student organization development, informed the group that their constitution violated IU’s human rights policy by prohibiting non-Christians from accessing leadership roles. direction.

Hannah: Although the decisions have already been rendered, I am sure that the settlement money will rekindle the debate in the community on these decisions. I think it’s important to look at this from a moral and legal point of view, because they are two different points of view.

Shahab: Okay, I agree with you on that part. Often when the law is discussed, the conversations tend to assume that legality implies that the law is moral. However, as much lawyers As we have noted over time, it is important to recognize that morality is not necessarily an antecedent of legality.

Hannah: What are your thoughts from a moral point of view?

Shahab: We must recognize that this decision represents the conundrum when it comes to reconciling morality with our constitution. The beauty and limitation of the First Amendment is that it protects everyone’s speech, regardless of their moral system, unless that moral system calls for hurting people.

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

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a tension in the liberal principles that guide our constitution and my own ethical philosophy demands that I tolerate the rights of the “other party” to express themselves. Even if these opinions are based on bigotry.

Hannah: From a legal point of view, the student organizations had a much stronger argument than the university. These organizations 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 factors such as gender or ideology, then it would be hypocritical not to allow Christian organizations to do it.

Shahab: Yes, I agree with you on that, based on how our current legal system interprets the First Amendment, student organizations have a stronger case to make. That being said, it should also be remembered that what discrimination these groups promote shows the limits of our legal system when it comes to moral litigation.


The columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the editorial board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations with which the author may be involved.


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