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Judge: University Can’t Silence Students’ Religious Views

July 6, 2022

A district court judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the University of Idaho, which filed a no-contact order against three Christian law students whose expressed views on marriage as between one man and one woman left an LGBTQ+ student feeling threatened, according to the ruling.

In April, the four students all attended a “moment of community” rally at the law school on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho, after someone on the Boise campus anonymously posted an anti-LGBTQ+ slur on a classroom whiteboard. The three plaintiffs, members of the Christian Legal Society, “gathered in prayer—with members of their society and others—in a showing of support for the LGBTQ+ community,” the decision reads.

One student, described only as Jane Doe, engaged the plaintiffs in a discussion about their traditional view of marriage, taking issue with the claim that it was dictated in the Bible. But they parted ways without incident.

Shortly afterward, one of the plaintiffs left a handwritten note in Jane Doe’s carrel, offering to continue the conversation. The university noted that Jane Doe saw the move as “violating” her personal space with “messaging she interpreted as one of the Plaintiffs’ efforts to proselytize about extreme hateful religious dogma that [she] emphatically rejects.”

A few days later, at a meeting concerning the law school’s accreditation, students including Jane Doe raised concerns about the CLS’s “bigoted and anti-LGBTQ+” views, according to the ruling. One of the plaintiffs defended CLS, arguing “the biggest instance of discrimination he had seen on campus was actually against CLS and the administration’s failure to timely recognize and register it as a group.”

Jane Doe subsequently filed a report with the university’s Office of Civil Rights and Investigation, stating that the plaintiffs’ actions made her feel “targeted and unsafe.” The OCRI then issued a no-contact order, prohibiting the plaintiffs from any contact with Jane Doe.

When efforts to resolve the conflict with the university failed, the plaintiffs filed suit, arguing that the no-contact order violated their First Amendment rights, among other things.

U.S. District Court judge David Nye ruled with the plaintiffs, finding that the university overstepped in issuing the no-contact order.

“Some may disagree with Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs,” he wrote. “Such is each person’s prerogative and right. But none should disagree that Plaintiffs have a right to express their religious beliefs without fear of retribution. The Constitution makes that clear.”

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Susan H. Greenberg

Susan H. Greenberg is a senior editor at Inside Higher Ed. A career journalist and educator, she joined the publication in August 2021 after eight years in Vermont, where she freelanced and taught writing at Middlebury College and Champlain College. Prior to that, she spent 22 years writing and editing for Newsweek magazine, where she covered everything from international affairs to arts and culture. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and River Teeth, among others. She has taught English and journalism at Phillips Academy, where she served as an advisor to the student newspaper. She holds a B.A. in English from Brown University and an M.S. in journalism from Columbia. The mother of three nearly adult children, she is very much enjoying her newly empty nest.

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