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Religious business group sues University of Iowa

Gay rights vs religious freedom

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LOCAL RESPONSE: “This situation certainly brings to light a manufactured conflict between religious communities and the LGBT community,” says Ben Allatt, Harrisburg City Council member.

The situation involves a legal battle brewing at the University of Iowa pitting gay rights against religious freedom.

Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) is suing the public university for religious discrimination after it revoked the group’s campus registration in November for denying a leadership position to a gay student. The group, which was founded three years ago at the school’s Tippie College of Business, rejects the university’s claim.

Allatt, who himself is a practicing Christian and son of an ordained minister told The Central Voice,” Many within the religious community fail to see that simply being gay does not disqualify someone from being religious. The group says its membership is open to everyone but says its leaders must affirm a statement of faith that rejects homosexuality.

“It is a shame that a student who identifies as gay and Christian would be barred from participating in a group that identifies as Christian, Allatt says, adding “this is the height of hypocrisy.”

The lawsuit claims “BLinC declined the student’s request because he expressly stated that he rejected BLinC’s religious beliefs and would not follow them. Asking the government to subsidize your religious gathering is a novel and aggressive reframing of what religious liberty has been understood to be in the past.”

“This is 2017, not 1984,” Jacob Estell, the student president of BLinC, said in a statement. “Our beliefs weren’t made by us, and they can’t be changed by us either — certainly not just to satisfy Orwellian government rules.”

Allatt hopes there several things considered in this particular case.

“One this group on campus is not a church, and without knowing the specific details regarding the group’s make-up, one can assume that the group is nondenominational in an attempt to appeal to a wide group of Christians to participate, Allatt says.

Second, “churches have the ability through religious exemptions to declare who they are to the world, and if they determine they are not inclusive to the LGBT community, that is their legal right.” But he also points out that “This group is not a church, it is a group operating within a university and is subject to the policies set forth by the university.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing BLinC in court. The Becket Fund has developed a track record of successfully litigating religious liberty cases, including the landmark 2014 case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. In a split decision, the Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby to find that the government could not compel the company to provide contraception for female employees when to do so would violate the religious beliefs of the owners.