1AP’s 3 Things to Know– BLinC vs. University of Iowa update
Across the country, public universities have begun adopting and enforcing policies that prohibit student organizations from establishing their own criteria for membership and leadership positions. Sometimes called “all-comer” policies, they are almost exclusively enforced against faith-based and political groups, but not against other groups with selective criteria, like sororities and fraternities.
In 2017, a student filed a complaint against Business Leaders in Christ, a recognized campus group at the University of Iowa. After investigating, the University derecognized BLinC on the basis that requiring leaders to agree to and live by its faith statement violated the University’s policy on human rights. BLinC filed suit, arguing that club members’ 1st Amendment rights were violated because the University is not applying the policy evenly.
On January 23, 2018, Judge Rose ordered that BLinC’s status be temporarily reinstated while the case continues. Here’s what you need to know:
- BLinC’s recognized status has been restored–for now. Judge Rose determined that BLinC had some likelihood of success at trial, and that the group would be harmed by not having access to benefits like club fairs and use of rental space as the case proceeded. She cited concerns about their constitutional freedoms, including freedom of speech and association. However, this order only lasts for 90 days, at which point BLinC will be derecognized again absent some solution.
- The Constitution does not require “all-comer” policies, and it is actually unconstitutional to inconsistently enforce them. In 2010, the Supreme Court addressed these issues in CLS v. Martinez. It held that universities are not required to have “all-comer” policies, and when they do, those policies must be enforced in a viewpoint-neutral way. University of Iowa’s policy states that recognized clubs may not use leadership restrictions based on protected classes, including religion, sex, and sexual orientation. To equally enforce this rule, the University would have to derecognize many other established groups, something Judge Rose referenced when questioning why a Muslim club which grants full membership benefits only to Shia Muslims kept its status. The logical endpoint of full enforcement of the policy is an extreme outcome that would ban virtually all religious and ethnic clubs, as well as Greek life. Removing these groups in the name of diversity is inconsistent with the very mission of a university to expose students to new ideas.
- State legislators can pass laws protecting the rights of students to freely associate and form groups on campus. In some states, legislators have begun working with students groups to pass legislation that protects the rights of all students to freely associate and form groups to magnify their voices and share common interests. Nine states have already passed laws addressing these issues, and as many as 25 may introduce legislation this year. “All-comer” policies mandated by well-meaning but misguided administrators do the opposite of empowering students. They dictate which viewpoints are acceptable, marginalizing all others and taking leadership power away from students. Being “student-centered” does not mean every club must cater to the desires, beliefs, or feelings of every single student on campus; indeed, that would make having clubs meaningless as they’d stand for nothing and serve no one. Students deserve the opportunity to freely associate and express themselves without administrative interference.