The accountability project claims it “empowers queer, trans and non-binary students at more than 200 taxpayer-funded religious schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.”
In the students’ lawsuit, they are seeking to remove the religious exemption to the Title IX prohibition of sex discrimination, so that the religious schools receiving federal funding would be subject to its requirements.
In March, Biden issued an executive order stating his administration’s policy to oppose “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity” in education. The schools shuld be subject to that order if their religious exemption to Title IX is removed, the lawsuit claims.
The president of the council, Shirley V. Hoogstra, told CNA that the CCCU filed a motion “to be an official participant in the case so we can defend Title IX’s religious protections.”
“As part of the filing, the CCCU also submitted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the frivolous legal claims,” Hoogstra said. “Because the CCCU represents a large swath of religious higher education, we believe that adding our voice, our experience and our analysis to the defense side will help the court resolve the lawsuit in a way that is favorable to our members.”
Hoogstra said that if the court were to overturn the religious exemption to Title IX for the colleges, they could be forced to forego federal financial student aid. Such a situation “would take federal financial aid away from hundreds of thousands of students who choose to attend faith-based colleges and universities,” Hoogstra said.
“This would restrict student choice in an unprecedented way, preventing middle- and low-income students from being able to take their federal aid to these institutions,” Hoogstra said, noting that seven out of 10 students at CCCU schools receive federal funding.
She added that “the withdrawal of financial aid, including Pell grants and federal research grants, would have a disproportionate impact on low-income and first-generation college students, as well as students from racial and ethnic minority groups.”
She added, “Faith-based higher education has always been an essential element of the diversity of higher education in the United States—many of the first colleges and universities in the country were religious—and it is crucial that students continue to be given the opportunity to choose and access the college of their choice in a diverse educational landscape.”
Paul Southwick, a lawyer for the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, recently told Inside Higher Ed that the council’s motion to intervene is “premature,” arguing that the Department of Education “has not indicated whether they will defend the Title IX religious exemption or whether they will be neutral or align with the plaintiffs.”
Southwick also said the government “is not required to subsidize discrimination, whether the discrimination is on the basis of race or on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
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Asked about Southwick’s comments, Hoogstra said that CCCU “is intervening in this case because the plaintiffs want to end and take away our constitutional protections right now, and right now is when we need to respond. Later would be too late.”
“I also want to clarify that CCCU institutions do not in fact ‘discriminate’ based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as LGBTQ students are routinely admitted and enrolled at our schools,” she added.
She said that faith-based colleges and universities are exercising their First Amendment right “to maintain a campus community in which everyone is committed to living out a historic, biblical understanding of human sexuality, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“Others might disagree with the underlying theology, but implementing this theology on a Christian college or university campus is not the same as ‘discriminating’ against LGBTQ students,” Hoogstra said.
“Believing differently is not discrimination. In America, individuals are granted rights to hold beliefs others find wrong but are actually protected under the Constitution. Differing views can and should live side by side, as that is the great promise in America.”