Hope for Campus Christians?

If the decision at Duke left evangelical Christians bummed, this one from Iowa might lift their culture-war spirits. Not only did the Obama-appointed federal judge rule on the side of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, but she threatened to hit the offending college administrators where it hurts. And she included the Hawkapellas.

hawkapellas Iowa

I’m guessing the Hawkapellas didn’t think they’d be part of this culture-war battle…

Here’s what we know: According to Inside Higher Ed, federal judge Stephanie Rose issued her second ruling against the University of Iowa. Back in January, she ruled that the university could not fairly de-recognize Business Leaders in Christ. Now, she ruled not only that the university unfairly de-recognized Intervarsity, but that the university leaders should have known better. She intimated that specific administrators might be personally financially liable.

This ruling might change the climate of these campus de-recognition battles in two big ways. First of all, Judge Rose explicitly agreed that Christian groups can’t be singled out for their discriminatory policies. In Iowa, at least, plenty of other groups discriminate yet were allowed to remain on campus.

She lists several student organizations. The all-female Hawkapella singing club, for example, restricts its membership to women. The Tau Sigma Military Dental Club is only open to military-sponsored students. The Iowa National Lawyer’s Guild “excludes individuals because of their political views, even though such an exclusion constitutes discrimination on the basis of creed.”

As the judge ruled,

The University purports to apply the Human Rights Policy to RSOs [Registered Student Organizations] such that they may not speak about religion, gender, homosexuality, creed, and numerous other protected characteristics through their membership and leadership criteria. But whereas InterVarsity may not require or even encourage its leaders to subscribe to its faith, other RSOs are free to limit membership and leadership based on the Human Rights Policy’s protected characteristics.

How can a university allow the Hawkapellas without including the Intervarsities? How can it recognize some groups that discriminate in their membership and leadership policies and not others? Judge Rose thinks they can’t. At least, not legally.

Perhaps most important, Judge Rose ruled that specific university administrators could be subject to financial damages. I can’t help but think that that provision will make cautious administrators at other schools sit up and take notice.