Amid pressure from the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, the U.S. Department of Education publicly released a list of Christian schools seeking Title IX exemptions over their views on transgenderism.
In December, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) issued a report calling for “greater transparency” for religious schools seeking exemptions “under the guise of religious liberty.”
On April 29, the Obama administration published the results of the request—placing the spotlight on each college and university seeking to hold true to a biblical worldview on gender and sexuality.
“Yes, we filed for the exemption and we are proud of it,” said Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, one of the schools on the list. “But nothing will change for us. We are compliant with a biblical worldview and to do anything else would be false advertising for our students.”
Title IX is the federal law enacted in 1972 to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex. For years, the law was used primarily to give women equal access to intercollegiate sports. But in 2014, without a single move from lawmakers in Congress, the Department of Education expanded the definition to include gender identity. Now, schools need to accommodate men who identify as women—granting them access to female housing or even permission to compete on female sports teams if they choose.
The broadened definition challenged many Christian institutions to either compromise their faith-based principles or file for an exemption from the new mandate to keep federal funding. And even with the exemption, the move opens the door to possible lawsuits from LGBT groups and public ridicule.
Eight Senate Democrats joined with HRC to pressure the Department of Education to compile and release the list.
But others in the Senate view this as just one more example of an overreaching agency in the Obama administration.
In March, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., spoke out against the Department of Education, citing Title IX mandates as an example of abuse of power.
“The Department of Education positions itself to hold federal funding ransom if universities don’t comply with its policies even when those policies are unlawful abuses of regulatory power,” Lankford said. “Here the ends certainly do not justify the means. Schools and the very students we want to protect suffer as a result.”
The Department of Education’s list spotlighted 74 schools that have filed for exemptions since 2009. They range from Baptist institutions, such as Anderson University in South Carolina, to Quaker colleges, such as George Fox University in Oregon.
“(We want) to ensure that no student unknowingly enrolls in a school that intends to discriminate against them,” HRC president Chad Griffin said.
The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), which represents 152 North American institutions, said the list merely affirms which schools are taking advantage of provisions already laid out by lawmakers.
“The real story is why some are trying to penalize religious colleges for simply following the law,” the CCCU said in a statement.
Yet for Piper, the exemption is less about shielding his institution under the law but protecting his students from invasions of privacy. Being a male or being a female is an objective reality, and Piper said he wants to respect each student’s God-given biological sex.
“We believe that women should be given the dignity of having their own restrooms, showers, and dorms,” Piper said, reiterating statements he made in December. “I am pro-woman and proud of it.”
Christian law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) echoed that sentiment.
“Activists have sought to publicly shame institutions that have exercised their rights, and they successfully recruited the Department [of Education] to join their efforts,” said Greg Baylor, senior counsel with ADF. “We are hopeful that most Americans will support schools that seek to respond to gender dysphoria with compassion and Christian love rather than follow the government’s one-size-fits-all mandates.”
— by Evan Wilt