The founding fathers created something both intriguingly beneficial and strangely difficult when they wrote the First Amendment. When they penned both free speech and religion (and let's not forget the press) as freedoms on that parchment, it created a sort of tightrope for the future. No doubt that was something of the intent, but the public universities walking that high wire are getting sort of shaky in their steps these days.
The University of Iowa has recently been dealing with a number of lawsuits spurred by the overlap in the First Amendment. It all started when the campus group Business Leaders in Christ denied an openly gay student a role as an officer (not member, mind you, just officer) because the student's constitutionally protected practices clashed with the group's constitutionally protected religious values. When the student group refused to amend their policy, the University deregisterd them, according to the Iowa City Press Citizen. That's a fancy term, which the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said effectively eliminates groups from campus.
Well, actually, the Becket Fund said that regarding the deregistration of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, but the two issues are related. You see, after the Business Leaders in Christ sued the U of I over how it handled the situation, a judge said the university's policy of dealing with discrimination in campus organizations wasn't exactly equal. There were still various religious groups, which required things like a statement of faith from officers, operating without penalty.
So the U of I deregistered them all, which started the cycle all over again but this time on an exponential level.
Now, I'm not picking on Herky's hometown just because I was known to wear cardinal and gold from time to time. The same sort of thing has been known to happen on campus in Ames as well, according to the Iowa State Daily. The campus paper said Iowa State University student sued his perhaps not so alma mater (know your Latin) back in 2016, because a hold was placed on his graduation because his group "ISU Young Americans for Freedom" had organized events the university said could be considered offensive. The group felt its conservative views on issues such as marriage and abortion were being suppressed, according to the Des Moines Register.
So, here's the rub. I'm not even going to pick sides on this one, because it's really that difficult (and one of my good friends was just recently deposed as an Intervarsity employee for the case). I appreciate that it's difficult for state-funded universities to walk the tightrope of the First Amendment. If they lean too far to one side and require religious organizations to accept (on paper at least) ideology contrary to their values, then the state is infringing on freedom of religion. If they lean too far the other way and allow religious groups to exclude applicants because of their actions, then the state is infringing on freedom of speech.
They can't win.
It seems like it should be simple, and in some cases it could be. Just a few weeks ago, the Dickinson County Sheriff's Office had to turn down a few job applicants because they had criminal records (no joke, that was said in an open meeting). I doubt a lawsuit claiming discrimination in that case would be very successful. Unfortunately, our universities in this state (and I apologize I didn't find First Amendment lawsuits against UNI, which I'm sure disappoints every Panther out there) have a harder line to walk.
Like I said, it's a tight wire strung between to guaranteed freedoms, and they aren't working with much of a net. Good thing they're both birds.