University ordered to pay almost $2 million after students win religious freedom lawsuit

The University of Iowa was recently ordered to pay $1.9 million after two student groups sued the school.

The lawsuits were filed originally in 2017 and 2018.

A federal judge ordered the University of Iowa (UI) to pay $1.9 million in fees and damages after two student groups won a series of religious discrimination lawsuits against the university. 

The Becket Fund, which represents Business Leaders in Christ, will receive $1.37 million while Intervarsity Christian Fellowship will get $533,000, Crux reports. 

Eric Baxter, a senior VP and counsel at The Becket Fund, told Campus Reform targeting students of faith “comes at a price.” 

"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,” Baxter said. 

[RELATED: Christian college petitions Supreme Court in religious freedom lawsuit]

Both lawsuits, as Campus Reform has reported, accused the University of Iowa of discriminating against the groups for their refusal to allow openly gay students from leadership roles in the organization, per their religious beliefs. As a result, the University of Iowa deregistered the two groups, along with dozens of other groups with religious beliefs on campus. 

The recent judgment follows a series of victories for the student groups, the most recent coming over the summer when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit denied UI its appeal and sided with a lower court which previously ruled in 2019 that UI had in fact selectively discriminated against the Christian organizations. 

“What the university did here was clearly unconstitutional,” the 8th Circuit's decision read. “It targeted religious groups for differential treatment under the human rights policy — while carving out exemptions and ignoring other violative groups with missions they presumably supported.”

The court also slammed UI officials, including the university’s president and vice-president at the time, for turning “a blind eye to decades of First Amendment jurisprudence or they proceeded full speed ahead knowing they were violating the law.” 

[RELATED: SCOTUS overwhelmingly sides with Christian student silenced on campus]

The court also overruled a lower court and decided that administration officials could be personally liable for violating the First Amendment. 

“The individual defendants may pick their poison: they are either plainly incompetent or they knowingly violated the Constitution,” the ruling read. “Either way, they should not get qualified immunity.”

“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," Baxter told Campus Reform.

Campus Reform reached out to Business Leaders in Christ, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and the University of Iowa; this article will be updated accordingly.