A trio of Christian schools is attempting to intervene in a high-profile federal lawsuit filed last month by 33 LGBT students. The suit seeks to force the nation’s faith-based colleges, universities and seminaries to recognize gender identity and sexual orientation as normal.
On Friday, Alliance Defending Freedom asked a federal court in Oregon to allow three Christian post-secondary schools – Corban University, William Jessup University and Phoenix Seminary – to intervene as defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks to declare the religious exemption in Title IX unconstitutional.
Under current federal rules, religious institutions are exempt from Title IX, a 1972 law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs and activities. Although the Trump administration argued that Title IX does not apply to sexual orientation and gender identity, the Biden administration has claimed it does.
The students’ suit asks the court to require the federal government to “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.” It was filed by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, an organization backed by LGBT groups.
“The U.S. Department of Education is duty-bound by Title IX and the U.S. Constitution to protect sexual and gender minority students at taxpayer-funded colleges and universities, including private and religious educational institutions that receive federal funding,” the LGBT suit says.
But the trio of Christian institutions asserts that the court “should not assess the constitutionality of the Religious Exemption without hearing” from the “very religious educational institutions that the exemption was designed to protect.”
The school’s motion to intervene says a victory for the LGBT groups would harm not only the institutions but also the students who rely on federal funding to attend Christian schools.
“If Religious Schools were no longer eligible for a religious exemption under Title IX, the loss of enrollment and federal funding would severely threaten their institutions and limit their students’ ability to attend the school of their choice,” the motion says.
Further, a victory by LGBT groups in the lawsuit would force the Christian institutions to “choose between violating their religious convictions and foregoing religious speech about important issues like sex, gender, anthropology, marriage, and sexual morality,” and “losing critical federal funding for their institutions and students,” the motion says.
“That not only violates the express text of Title IX and Congress’ intent, but it also violates Religious Schools’ rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),” the motion says.
The motion says a change in the law would impact what is said and taught in the chapel, in the classroom, and in counseling – “all of which encourage students to live consistently with Biblical views on marriage and human sexuality, to reserve sexual activity for marriage between a man and a woman, and to live consistently with the biological sex they received as a gift from God.”
No existing parties “adequately represent Religious Schools’ interests,” the motion says. That’s because the Biden Department of Education “will likely take the position in this case” that “Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
ADF senior counsel Ryan Tucker said the case needs the voice of religious schools.
“Targeting religious schools hurts the students and families who desire to pursue their education in places that share their faith and values,” Tucker said. “These schools should be allowed to defend their and their students’ long-recognized freedoms under federal law and the First Amendment.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/ADragan
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.