Ben Zeisloft, Campus Reform
Students at Christian universities identifying as homosexual and transgender are suing the Department of Education to end the religious exemption in Title IX, which would make some Christian universities ineligible to receive federal funding.
Thirty-three students are listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the United States Department of Education filed in the District of Oregon’s Eugene Division. The suit — written by Paul Southwick of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project — states that it is seeking to “put an end to the U.S. Department of Education’s complicity in the abuses and unsafe conditions thousands of LGBTQ+ students endure at hundreds of taxpayer-funded, religious colleges and universities.”
“The Plaintiffs seek safety and justice for themselves and for the countless sexual and gender minority students whose oppression, fueled by government funding, and unrestrained by government intervention, persists with injurious consequences to mind, body and soul,” said the suit’s introduction. “When taxpayer-funded religious institutions require sexual and gender minority students to hide their identity out of fear, or to behave contrary to their fundamental sexual or gender identity, the unsurprising consequences are intense pain, loneliness and self-harm.”
Current and former students of Liberty University in Virginia, Baylor University in Texas, Cedarville University in Ohio, Oklahoma Baptist University, Messiah University in Pennsylvania, and other institutions recounted their experiences as LGBTQ+ students.
For instance, Mackenzie McCann — a former Liberty University student who identifies as “queer” and “non-binary” — said in the lawsuit that the school has a reputation for conservative beliefs. As the suit mentions, Liberty’s student conduct guide states that “sexual relations outside of a biblically-ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University.”
“Students at Liberty behave in homophobic and anti-queer ways because they know they can do so with relative impunity,” said McCann. “Liberty’s culture enables such conduct and makes students feel like Liberty is backing them.”
McCann left the school after one semester for her “emotional safety.”
Jake Picker — a pre-med student at Baylor University who identifies as a “bisexual man” — said in the lawsuit that “Baylor has made its LGBTQ+ students feel like they are less than and undesirable.” The suit acknowledges that Baylor students are expected to not participate in groups that “promote understandings of human sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”
Southwick told Campus Reform that “some of the plaintiffs were not aware of the schools’ policies at the time they applied,” while “others were aware but were initially told that their attendance would not be an issue.” Southwick insisted that his group is “not trying to defund these universities,” but wants them to keep existing.
Bob Jones University Chief of Staff Randy Page told Campus Reform that the university “believes all persons have inherent dignity and should thus be treated with kindness and respect.”
“BJU exercises its legally guaranteed religious freedom in a manner that upholds and reflects this bedrock principle,” said Page. “Faith-based colleges and universities are an indispensable part of America’s diverse higher education picture. This lawsuit is an effort to erase religious schools from the scene by denying financially disadvantaged students the ability to attend the college of their choice.”
“It’s a misguided attempt to discard a congressional enactment consistently respected and enforced by every presidential administration — both Democratic and Republican — for over four decades,” he added. “BJU intends to vigorously protect its interests and encourages the Biden administration to fulfill its duty to defend a law that reflects the best traditions of American liberty.”
The lawsuit comes weeks after the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act — a piece of legislation which seeks to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation” by providing the “full range of remedies available under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
As Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Greg Baylor and other conservative legal scholars told Campus Reform in February, the law “threatens to strip religious institutions of their religious identity by forcing them to violate their beliefs.”
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