Guest post via Keenan Crow of One Iowa

“There’s something insidious about this bill,” warned Independent Senator David Johnson during the Senate floor debate on SF 2344, a bill which purports to be about free speech on Iowa’s college and university campuses.

“I can read the lobbyist declarations for myself,” Johnson continued. “The Family Leader and Americans for Prosperity are for this bill. Those against it include the ACLU and Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund. Think about this ladies and gentlemen, what is this really?”

Iowa’s only independent Senator is unfortunately correct. While protecting free speech on campus is a laudable goal and one we at One Iowa Action fully support, that is not what this bill would actually accomplish. Tucked inside is a clause that would allow student groups to discriminate against protected classes in their leadership decisions while still receiving funding subsidized by taxpayers and other students.

There’s a reason this clause is being championed by organizations like The Family Leader, and it all begins with a group called Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC). BLinC is a student group at the University of Iowa. Last year the group violated not only the university’s nondiscrimination policy, but potentially the Iowa Civil Rights Act as well when they denied one of their members a leadership position because he was gay. The university responded by revoking the group’s official student organization status, which allowed them to use school resources. Business Leaders in Christ then sued the university, and their case is currently in litigation.

The Family Leader wants SF 2344 because it would have protected BLinC from these punishments by abolishing the university’s all-comers policy. Under this policy, membership, benefits, and leadership roles in official student organizations cannot be restricted on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, service in the U.S. military, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

We think the University of Iowa has a good policy in place. Students pay activities fees which then fund the organizations that are officially registered with the University. Allowing a registered organization to discriminate in the way allowed in the bill would mean some students will be paying for their own marginalization. For example, if a student organization claimed their beliefs do not allow women to be in leadership positions, they could simply deny women access to those roles. This is despite the fact that women make up 52% of students, and are therefore paying over half the fees generated to fund these organizations.

Many taxpayers would be upset knowing that their hard-earned money will be subsidizing venues for organizations who can’t be bothered to follow the constraints laid out in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. This was part of the reason for an amendment adopted in committee (now removed) that would have slightly mitigated the damage. It stated that institutions “may prohibit student organizations from discriminating against members or prospective members on the basis of any protected status recognized by federal or state law.” While this language didn’t fix the problem entirely, its removal during the floor debate was nonetheless disappointing.

This bill is unacceptable. Groups of students on campus have every right to meet with each other and impose restrictions on their leadership, members, or values. Nothing in any public Iowa college or university policy impedes that. What they don’t have a right to is public funding if their constraints violate civil rights laws.

The Iowa Senate passed this bill late last night on a vote of 29-20 with one senator absent. We urge the House not to follow in their footsteps, and to at the very least remove the section that allows publicly funded discrimination.

 

by Keenan Crow
Posted 3/1/18

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