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Faith-based campus groups at U. of Iowa: We have right to determine our leaders like others

ADF attorneys file friend-of-the-court brief at 8th Circuit
Published On: 3/17/2020

ST. LOUIS – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, on behalf of faith-based campus organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit that asks it to uphold a district court’s ruling in favor of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. That decision allows each student group on campus to choose leaders who believe in the group’s mission and standards of conduct and not be forced to consider those who don’t. Currently, the university only extends this freedom to non-religious student groups.

Even though InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has been a vital part of the University of Iowa community for 25 years, the university decided to kick the group and other religious groups off campus simply because they wanted leaders that agreed with their respective mission statements. InterVarsity has always welcomed all students to join, but those with a leadership role must share the beliefs of the organization.


“No group should be forced to accept leaders who don’t even agree with the group’s mission,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross. “A public university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but that marketplace can’t function if officials will not let groups elect leaders who agree with the group’s reason for being. The district court was right to uphold the rights that every student group has under the First Amendment.”

ADF attorneys filed the brief in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship v. University of Iowa on behalf of Ratio Christi, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, Parkview Evangelical Free Church, and Chi Alpha Campus Ministries.


The university failed to apply a consistent standard to all groups. It does not require fraternities to be open to women, ethnicity-based groups to be open to all races, or political groups to be open to those who oppose their beliefs. The university also directly defied multiple injunctions that prohibited it from singling out religious organizations. In its ruling in favor of InterVarsity, the district court went so far as to say that it “does not know how a reasonable person could have concluded this was acceptable.”

“Reasonable officials comply with court injunctions,” the ADF brief states. “Reasonable officials do not adopt radically new policy interpretations and apply them to only one type of student group. Here, University officials have done both, and this Court should affirm the district court’s rulings in full.”

“Today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “It’s critical that universities live by example in demonstrating the importance of those freedoms instead of communicating to an entire generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”  


  • Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.


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