Christian group wins religious freedom case against University of Iowa: 'Ruling is a win for basic fairness'

A Christian student group that was kicked off campus for requiring its leaders to embrace Christian religious beliefs won a federal court case against the University of Iowa this week.

The university stripped the Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) of its status on campus after a member claimed he was denied a leadership position for being openly gay, saying BLinC violated the school's Human Rights Policy. The group, however, argued the member was rejected because “he expressly stated that he rejected BLinC’s religious beliefs and would not follow them.”

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Judge Stephanie M. Rose of the U.S. District for the Southern District of Iowa found that the University of Iowa violated the Christian club's First Amendment rights to free speech, expressive association, and free exercise of religion.

“The university wanted a license to discriminate, and Judge Rose said no way,” Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represented BLinC, said in a statement.

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After BLinC was stripped of its registered student organization status, the group sued the school in December 2017. The judge ordered the school to give BLinC and any other groups affected by the case registered status until the court decided the case. With the outcome this week, the court is effectively allowing the 33 religious student groups who were being audited by the school's administration to permanently remain on campus.

Two University of Iowa students who are involved in BLinC, a Christian student organization that was kicked off of campus for requiring its leaders to adhere to a faith standard.

Two University of Iowa students who are involved in BLinC, a Christian student organization that was kicked off of campus for requiring its leaders to adhere to a faith standard. (Becket)

“The Constitution does not tolerate the way [the university] chose to enforce the Human Rights Policy," the decision reads, in part.

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University of Iowa spokesperson Hayley Bruce told Fox News school officials are reviewing the ruling and will follow the court order.

Members of the group said they are happy the court sided with them.

“We are grateful the court protected our rights today—to let us have the same rights as all student groups to express our viewpoints freely on campus and to be who we are,” Jake Estell, president of BLinC, said. “This victory reinforces the commonsense idea that universities can’t target religious student groups for being religious.”

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The court found the University of Iowa to be applying the Human Rights Policy to some groups but not others, namely religious groups. The court found the university in violation of viewpoint discrimination against BLinC by allowing groups like Love Works, a "gay-affirming" Christian group, to require its members to adhere to a faith statement but not the same for BLinC.

“This ruling is a win for basic fairness, but it is also an eloquent plea for civility in how governments treat Americans in all their diversity," Baxter said. "As a governmental body bound by the First Amendment, the university should have never tried to get into the game of playing favorites in the first place, and it is high time for it to stop now.”

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A similar lawsuit is pending before Rose that will likely be decided later this year. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, another Christian group that was kicked off campus, is suing the school.