In 2016, a Christian student organization at the University of Iowa called Business Leaders in Christ, or "BLinC," barred a student from serving in a leadership role because he refused to "confess and repent of sinful conduct" — of being gay.
UI responded by revoking BLinC's status as a student organization, citing a violation of anti-discrimination policy. The conflict initiated years of litigation that ended with the university being found to have violated the student organization's rights by selectively applying a non-discriminations policy. More recently the university was ordered to cover $1.37 million in attorney's fees and expenses plus $1 damages from each defendant in the case, per a judgment filed last month.
Those fees cover an estimated 2,300 billed hours, according to court documents, in a case that included more than 23,000 pages of documents.
Judge Stephanie Rose with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa ruled in 2019 that university officials had selectively enforced a policy intended to prohibit discrimination for some student groups, but not others. By way of selectively applying the policy, UI had engaged in viewpoint discrimination and violated BLinC's right to free speech, expressive association and free exercise of religion, according to the ruling.
In the midst of the legal proceedings, the university conducted a review of student groups' constitutions for language that contradicted policy. The review revealed 30 student groups that were subsequently deregistered, although many were re-registered later.
The 2019 ruling provided qualified immunity for three university officials named in the lawsuit. BLinC then appealed the case to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which eventually removed the protection of qualified immunity.
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: After losing discrimination case, University of Iowa owes $1.37M