LGBTQ Students Sue Department of Education Over Alleged 'Discriminatory Practices’ at Christian Universities

Emma Riley | April 13, 2021 | 2:22pm EDT
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(CNS News) -- LGBTQ students are suing the U.S. Department of Education because of  alleged “discriminatory practices” at Christian universities that receive federal funding and yet impose traditional, Bible-based morals’ rules on their students.

Christian or religious schools that receive federal funding currently are allowed under Title IX to obtain a “religious exemption,” which permits them to discriminate against students or actions that violate the institutions' religious beliefs. E.g., single-sex dormitories, no condom dispensers on campus, no pornography on campus, no same-sex dating, etc.

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The Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) filed the lawsuit on March 29 on behalf of 33 plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division.

The lawsuit seeks “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,” states the document filed with the court.

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“The Department’s inaction leaves students unprotected from the harms of conversion therapy, expulsion, denial of housing and healthcare, sexual and physical abuse and harassment, as well as the less visible, but no less damaging, consequences of institutionalized shame, fear, anxiety and loneliness,” reads the lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs ask this Court to declare that the religious exemption to Title IX, as applied to sexual and gender minority students, is unconstitutional and that the Department must enforce the protections of Title IX at all taxpayer-funded educational institutions, including at those institutions that discriminate and cause harm on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs,” states the lawsuit.

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Some of the schools attended by the plaintiffs include Bob Jones University, Baylor University, Nyack College, Brigham Young University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University, and Liberty University.

In the case of Bob Jones University, one plaintiff, Elizabeth Hunter, alleges the school “is toxic for LGBTQ+ people. Homophobia among the student body, faculty, and administration is rampant. LGBTQ+ students have to hide who we are and will suffer grave consequences if we come out and stand up for ourselves."

The university reportedly “disciplined Elizabeth for posting about LGBTQ+ issues on social media, including her posts about reading a book with a lesbian main character, and about writing a book including a lesbian relationship.” 

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Also, the lawsuit alleges that Hunter was disciplined “when she refused to disavow her support for LGBTQ+ rights and relationships. School authorities removed Elizabeth from a beloved, on-campus position, forced her into mandatory counseling with the Dean of Women, and required her to pay a monetary fine.”

Rachel Moulton, another plaintiff, alleged that Brigham Young University-Idaho “compared LGBTQ+ people, who just wanted the right to marry the person they love, to agents of Satan who were attacking the family.”

At Baylor University, its statement on human sexuality reads, “The University affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality as a gift from God. Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm.

Adam and Eve. 

"Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

On April 12, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, filed a motion in the same U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., to intervene in the lawsuit. 

The ADF, representing Corban University, William Jessup University, and Phoenix Seminary, is asking the court to allow them to defend the relevant provisions of Title IX.

“This lawsuit wants the federal government to tell Christian schools, ‘To continue accepting students who have federal financial aid, all you have to do is to start acting contrary to your own beliefs.’ That’s neither reasonable nor constitutional,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman.

“No court should grant a radical request to rewrite federal law and strong-arm religious colleges by stripping their students of much-needed financial aid," said Cortman in a press release. "For that reason, we are asking the court to let our clients intervene in this lawsuit so that they and their students can defend their freedoms under federal law and the Constitution.”

“The very existence of Title IX’s Religious Exemption is at stake here, yet none of the current parties are religious educational institutions that benefit from this exemption,” states the ADF's motion to intervene

Bob Jones University Chief of Staff Randy Page told Campus Reform, "BJU exercises its legally guaranteed religious freedom in a manner that upholds and reflects this bedrock principle. Faith-based colleges and universities are an indispensable part of America’s diverse higher education picture. “

“This [LGBTQ] 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,” said Page.

The lawsuit follows on the heels of the Equality Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives several weeks ago. The Equality Act aims to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation” by expanding the definition of sex in the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gender identity.

The Religious Exemption Accountability Project is headed by Paul Carlos Southwick, a homosexual who is married to another man.  The organization seeks to empower “queer, trans and non-binary students at more than 200 taxpayer-funded religious colleges and universities that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression,” according to its website.

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