DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — A conservative Christian group sued The University of Iowa in federal court Monday, claiming it was kicked off campus for denying a leadership post to a gay man, and refusing to amend its religious beliefs to accept “sexual conduct” that runs contrary to its mission.
Business Leaders in Christ, or BLinC, acknowledges that it denied its member Marcus Miller a leadership role in 2016 after he said he intended to pursue same-sex relationships. But it denies that it did so because of his sexual orientation.
It says it welcomes gay members but it decided that Miller was ineligible to become a leader because he was pursuing relationships “inconsistent” with the group’s beliefs on sexual conduct.
“The executive board was concerned that the member did not share BLinC’s view of the Bible’s guiding authority and its teaching on sexual conduct, and did not seem willing to confess and repent of what the Bible taught is sinful conduct,” the 41-page lawsuit states.
Miller’s story was reported by the campus newspaper, the Daily Iowan, but he is not named in the body of the filing. He complained to the university that he lost the position because he is openly gay.
BLinC says that claim is false: that it denied him because he “expressly stated that he rejected BLinC’s religious beliefs and would not follow them.”
After BLinC declined to amend its constitution to satisfy college officials, the group says it was kicked off campus. It says the university will allow it to reregister only if it amends its statement of faith.
The university’s position hinges on the fact that as a state school, the Constitution prohibits it from endorsing or requiring adherence to a particular religion.
Miller told The Daily Iowan that the group offered him the position but withdrew it when they found out he is gay. He said that as a devout Christian the rejection hit him hard.
“I felt isolated and alone. What once used to be a home for me and a place where all my friends were, where I got all my support, quickly became the place I dreaded the most,” Miller told the newspaper in March.
“It was so hard for me to be rejected by the people I thought would accept me. There was a lot of nights where I wouldn’t be able to sleep; there were a lot of nights where I contemplated suicide. I felt stuck between two different worlds.”
The Daily Iowan is a 19,500-circulation daily newspaper serving students of the university.
According to the lawsuit, Miller approached the group’s president Hannah Thompson and said that he was struggling to reconcile his faith with his sexuality.
“Ms. Thompson opened her Bible and they studied what the Bible teaches about sexual conduct. They prayed together,” the complaint states.
Thompson discussed Miller’s application with the group’s executive board, which was worried that Miller “did not seem willing to confess and repent.”
In a statement, the group’s attorney Eric Baxter accused the university of “premeditated” religious discrimination.
“A state school cannot demand a change to students’ faith any more than the U.S. president could demand a change to the Bible,” the attorney said.
The university contends it is not demanding that the group or Miller change their faith; it is demanding that a state school-sponsored club not require specific religious beliefs as a condition of membership.
BLinC claims the University of Iowa is discriminating against it in violation of the First and 14th Amendments, the Higher Education Act, the Iowa Constitution, and the Iowa Human Rights Act. It seeks damages and an injunction.
Defendants include Assistant Dean of Students Thomas Baker and Executive Director of Iowa Memorial Union William Nelson.
The University of Iowa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.