UPDATE: On March 14, the Iowa House passed the bill as well! These free speech and religious liberty protections for Iowa public college students now await the governor’s signature to become law!
The Iowa Senate on March 11 passed SF274, also known as the FORUM Act, which secures free speech and religious liberty protections to students at Iowa colleges and universities.
The FORUM Act became one of The FAMiLY LEADER’s top legislative priorities after an incident in 2017 in which the University of Iowa attempted to disband a Christian campus student organization called Business Leaders in Christ, or BLinC. The University had demanded the organization conform its statement of beliefs to permit an openly homosexual student to serve in leadership.
BLinC ultimately won a lawsuit against the University, when a federal judge ruled the University had applied its Human Rights Policy “selectively” – meaning it had granted exceptions to some secular groups, but clamped down on religious groups.
The FORUM Act, however, would set into Iowa code that public institutions of higher learning may not deny students their First Amendment rights to speech, religion, and association because the University disagrees with the students’ viewpoint. The bill would thus protect student organizations like BLinC – or organizations of other faiths or no faith – from discrimination based on their beliefs.
The bill has faced an uphill battle, but eventually won the support of a bipartisan majority in the Iowa Senate. The Republican majority was joined by a handful of Democrats in passing SF274 by a vote of 35-11.
“A university has to accommodate a universe of beliefs,” affirmed Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames). “And this bill, with its very strong protections for free speech … does that very, very well.”
The bill must yet be passed by the Iowa House and signed by the governor before it can become law.