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UI Christian Legal Society’s funding under fire

BY ADAM SULLIVAN | MARCH 3, 2009 7:20 AM

Student groups are at odds over funding for an allegedly discriminatory group.

More than 100 UI law students and faculty members have signed a petition calling for UI administrators and student government officials to stop funding the campus chapter of the Christian Legal Society.

That group’s constitution calls for its executive members to abstain from sexual conduct outside of traditional marriage, including homosexuality. That violates the UI Human Rights policy, said Rita Bettis, a member of Iowa Campaign for Human Rights at the UI College of Law.

“It’s not the group itself. We don’t take issue with their private religious beliefs,” she said. “What we are opposing is the [UI Student Government’s] decision to disperse public funds” to the group.

The UI’s Human Rights policy outlaws “differences in treatment of persons because of … sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other classification that deprives the person of consideration as an individual.” That policy is extended to extracurricular activities.

But members said the Christian Legal Society operates within the UI’s antidiscrimination policy.

All people — regardless of sexual orientation — are invited to attend the organization’s events, said Jonathan Landon, one of the society’s leaders. The sexual-practice agreement only pertains to the group’s leadership.

“In respect to the issue, the standard for leadership that we have, that’s part of our free speech, really,” Landon said. “In order to proclaim the message, it’s important to have leaders that believe in traditional Christian values.”

Landon said he’s frustrated that some are paying too much attention to what he calls “fine print” on the society’s constitution.

Beyond the controversy, the group organizes Bible discussion groups and charitable events.

“We really have a very service-oriented group,” Landon said. “It’s kind of frustrating, but people are entitled to have their viewpoints, too, just like we hope they respect ours.”

A similar situation sprang up last year when the UISG’s allocating committee initially froze funding to the Christian Legal Society. The controversy was squelched after a review of the society’s constitution by the UI general counsel found the society was not in violation of university policy and the group’s funding request was approved.

Next week, student organizations will submit budgets to the UISG’s allocating committee.

UISG officials said there is no indication the Christian Legal Society will be cut off from university funding.

“Their constitution has been reviewed by the university’s general council and it is their recommendation that the constitution does not violate the human rights policy,” he said. “As an agent of the university, the funding committee is in agreement and will follow that recommendation unless notified otherwise.”

UISG President Maison Bleam said even if the student senators voted to disapprove funding the Christian Legal Society, UI administrators could allocate the money to the group anyway.

“If they’re not violating any policy, there’s no reason they can’t apply for student funds,” he said. “We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”


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