Lawmakers consider including ‘political ideology’ under Iowa Civil Rights Act

By: - January 27, 2021 6:43 pm

The Iowa House Government Oversight Committee meets Jan. 27, 2021, with a dental student who claimed he was discriminated against based on his political ideology. (Screen shot from Iowa Legislature)

Iowa Republican lawmakers say they are confronting “cancel culture” with a proposal to make political ideology a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

“The woke culture philosophy of intolerance and hatred, of demanding all must agree, I think is profoundly dangerous and disturbing in our country,” Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison said. “That is not how our country has been able to be peaceful since 1776.”

Currently, the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 prohibits discrimination based on “age, race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, and familial status.” An individual cannot be denied employment, housing, education, wages or credit based on these characteristics. 

If passed, House Study Bill 67 will expand the act to include “political ideology,” a term which the legislation does not define.

That means Iowans like Michael Brase, a University of Iowa College of Dentistry student, could file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission if they believe they were discriminated against for their political beliefs.

Brase sent a college-wide email in October, arguing in favor of an executive order from President Donald Trump that the college had condemned. He told the House Government Oversight Committee Wednesday afternoon that his conservative beliefs put him at risk of expulsion or probation at the public university.

“Anybody who’s conservative has to be afraid to voice their opinions, and anybody who is on the liberal side of the fence can speak it out in broad daylight, they can make things up about people with no fear of any repercussions,” Brase said.

Brase, facing a disciplinary hearing after the emails, contacted Holt and other Republican lawmakers. After Holt spoke with university administrators on Brase’s behalf, the school canceled the hearing and apologized.

Brase said many University of Iowa students continue to condemn him on social media and have organized protests.

“I’m very concerned about what went on in this case, and I can tell you from having heard from a lot of other students … that Michael is not alone,” Holt said at the Government Oversight Committee meeting.

However, Judiciary subcommittee member Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said Wednesday morning that adding political ideology to the Civil Rights Act would not protect Iowans from interpersonal disputes over politics.

“This bill wouldn’t prevent individual people from refusing to interact with someone whose political ideology they found disgusting,” she said.

The House Judiciary subcommittee voted 2-1 to advance the bill. It moves next to the full Judiciary Committee.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.