“But public schools, charter schools, and secular private schools are not protected and remain under threat. Plus, other federal laws that lack religious exemptions may also apply. As long as the Biden Administration seeks to redefine what it means to be male or female in all federal laws, religious schools risk being punished just for maintaining Christian beliefs,” she added.
Fifty-two percent of U.S. Catholic schools participate in the federal lunch program, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.
Archdiocese of St. Louis withdraws from NSLP
Despite the USDA’s clarification, the Archdiocese of St. Louis released a private memo on Aug. 16 telling archdiocesan schools to drop out of the lunch program.
Brecht Mulvihill, the archdiocese’s executive director of communications, told CNA in an email that the archdiocese decided not to participate in both the NSLP and the similar USDA Special Milk Program.
“As with any federal subsidy, schools that participate in these programs are subject to a wide variety of federal mandates, which could ultimately impact decisions concerning admissions, extracurricular activities, facilities, and logistics,” Mulvihill wrote, adding: “In some circumstances, these mandates would impede a school’s ability to faithfully carry out the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
There are around one dozen archdiocesan elementary and high schools that have participated in the programs in the past that will be affected.
“The Archdiocese of St. Louis is working to provide similar meal service or reduced-cost options on which our students and their families rely. In the meantime, there will be no interruption of these important services,” Mulvihill said.
When CNA asked if the USDA’s reinstatement of the broad religious exemption would change the archdiocese’s decision to withdraw from the program, Mulvihill responded that “accepting any federal subsidy would subject archdiocesan schools to federal mandates that could impede a school’s ability to faithfully carry out the teachings of the Catholic Church. Our decision to withdraw from these programs is not due to one specific rule, law, or mandate.”
A USDA official told CNA Aug. 30 that although the Title IX regulations apply to a “wide array” of schools, the law includes some exceptions, “including one permitting an institution to be exempt on religious grounds if there is a conflict between Title IX and a school’s governing religious tenets.”
The spokesperson said that “USDA regulations do not require a religious educational institution to submit a written request for a Title IX exemption in order to claim that exemption,” adding: “USDA’s recent guidance is meant to clarify this process.”
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The official also said that the department works with all of its partners to “ensure that the applicable laws against discrimination are properly understood and implemented.”
“We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” the spokesperson added.
Edie Heipel is the Political Correspondent for CNA's Washington, D.C. bureau. She previously worked in communications for Center for Renewing America, served in the Trump White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and has been a contributor to various outlets including The Federalist and The Charlotte Lozier Institute. She is a graduate of Wheaton College.