A federal appeals court just ruled that University of Iowa officials who kicked a student club off campus because of its faith can be held personally accountable for the harm they caused. The university targeted Business Leaders in Christ, or BLinC, for requiring its student leaders to affirm the Christian faith. The university oddly claimed this was a violation of its nondiscrimination policy, even though it allowed other religious groups to select faith-compliant leaders and openly encouraged other groups—like fraternities and sororities—to select leaders based on other characteristics covered by the nondiscrimination policy. Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recognized this selective enforcement of the university’s policy for what it is: blatant viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment. And its ruling makes clear that university officials are personally responsible for such knowingly unconstitutional conduct.
In a partial concurrence/partial dissent, Judge Kobes concluded with these words:
The law is clear: state organizations may not target religious groups for differential treatment or withhold an otherwise available benefit solely because they are religious. That is what happened here. The individual defendants may pick their poison: they are either plainly incompetent or they knowingly violated the Constitution. Either way, they should not get qualified immunity.