House Dems pressure DOEd to 'clarify' Title IX after Baylor controversy

Democrats said a religious exemption given to Baylor was 'unprecedented' and a 'blatant attempt to interfere and pressure the department to stop an ongoing sex-based harassment investigation.'

The lawmakers claimed that Baylor could be given 'sweeping exemptions' to Title IX, and that it could damage Title IX nationwide.

On Sept. 5, five House Democrats pressured the U.S. Department of Education (DOEd) to clarify Baylor University’s exemption from Title IX requirements. 

The DOEd granted Baylor, a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas, a Title IX exemption on July 25, which dismissed harassment complaints made by LGBTQ students. Title IX prevents educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of sex in programs or activities. 

In a Sept. 5 letter sent to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), Mark Takano (D-CA) Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), and Greg Casar (D-TX) deemed Baylor’s exemption “unacceptable.” 

In the letter, the Democrats said the exemption was both “unprecedented” and a “blatant attempt to interfere and pressure the Department to stop an ongoing sex-based harassment investigation.” 

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“We are alarmed by Baylor University’s claim to an exemption from Title IX’s regulations prohibiting sexual harassment, and we urge the Department to clarify the narrow scope of this exemption and assure students at religious institutions that they continue to have protections against sex-based harassment,” they said. 

They also emphasized that Baylor was “no longer controlled by a religious organization,” and called on the DOEd to investigate “recent reports” to determine whether Baylor should be allowed an exemption in the first place.

The lawmakers also suggest that if the DOEd does not clarify the exemption, it may suggest that Baylor is eligible for “sweeping exemptions” from multiple Title IX regulations protecting against sexual and other sex-based harassment. The exemption may also weaken Title IX for students across the country, they added. 

“Baylor University actively seeking to invoke this exemption sends an alarming message that it wants harassment to go unchecked, making its campus dangerous and unsafe for all students,” the lawmakers added.

“We support the Department making clear that discrimination ‘on the basis of sex’ includes discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics, including intersex traits,” the Democrats concluded. 

Baylor requested an exemption from Title IX in May, regarding harassment complaints from LGBTQ students filed in 2021. Referencing its Statement on Human Sexuality, Baylor stated that any Title IX requirement that contradicts the Baptist doctrine of marriage and gender distinction is inconsistent with Baylor’s religious principles, making the university exempt from such requirements. 

The DOEd granted Baylor’s exemption in July.

After it gained media publicity and outrage from LGBTQ activists, Baylor President Linda Livingstone responded to the backlash saying in a statement that there would not be any changes to the university’s regulations on sexual harassment and it will continue to investigate allegations completely. 

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Instead, Livingstone said the university would respond to proposed expansions of the term “sexual harassment” by the DOEd that would interfere with Baylor’s ability to operate in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs, infringing on its rights under the U.S. Constitution and Title IX.

“Baylor contends that this is not a new exemption,” university spokesperson Lori Fogleman said in a separate statement to Campus Reform. “The University’s letter to the U.S. Department of Education simply reasserted its existing religious exemption under the First Amendment.”

Fogleman told Campus Reform that Baylor has a historical relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which was extended for another decade earlier this year. “The BGCT nominates 25% of the members of the Board of Regents. Additionally, at least 75% of Regents must be Baptist and an active member of a Baptist church, while the remaining regents must be Christian,” she said. 

Campus Reform also reached out to the Department of Education, and Reps. Schiff, Takano, Castro, Escobar, and Casar for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.