Yesterday Just the News reported that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that three University of Iowa officials can be held personally liable for derecognizing a Christian student club over its leadership requirements.
The article reports:
The law is “clearly established” that government officials cannot practice viewpoint discrimination, as administrators did by enforcing a “human rights” policy against Business Leaders in Christ but not other student groups, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined.
It’s exceedingly rare for courts to deny “qualified immunity” to public actors for violating constitutional rights. Litigants must point to court precedents that officials should have known were binding on their specific behavior, making it unlawful.
Yet the University of Iowa is likely to suffer a second loss on qualified immunity in a closely related case involving a different Christian club, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Oral arguments for each case were four months apart, and both went badly for the university.
The three-judge panel upheld two constitutional claims by Business Leaders in Christ but divided on the third claim, on whether administrators should have known they were violating the club’s free exercise rights.
In a concurrence and dissent, Judge Jonathan Kobes said all three claims should have been upheld.
“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,” he wrote. “The individual defendants may pick their poison: they are either plainly incompetent or they knowingly violated the Constitution.”
I suspect this may not be the end of these lawsuits.