LGBT group protests Title IX exemptions for religious schools

A national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organization wants the federal government to start shaming religious schools that request exemptions from Title IX anti-discrimination rules.

In a report released Friday, the Human Rights Campaign claims that in the wake of the Obama administration’s determination that the federal Title IX law outlaws discrimination “based on gender identity and non-conformity to sex stereotypes,” several religious institutions of higher learning have begun taking advantage of a little-known provision in the law that allows for exemptions based on religious objections.

“There is an alarming and growing trend of schools quietly seeking the right to discriminate against LGBT students, and not disclosing that information publicly,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a press release accompanying the report. “Prospective students and their parents deserve greater transparency, and we urge the Department of Education to take action by helping to increase accountability and to ensure that no student unknowingly enrolls in a school that intends to discriminate against them.”

Although the expanded definition of Title IX prohibits any institution that receives federal funding from, say, refusing to enroll or hire transgender individuals, the Human Rights Campaign claims to have identified 33 schools in 26 states that have received an official waiver from that restriction based on their religious affiliations, out of 56 such requests. The report also finds that 23 of those schools obtained an additional exemption allowing them to deny students and job applicants based on sexual preference.

“At the Human Rights Campaign, we believe that religious liberty is a bedrock principle of our country,” Griffin writes in the introduction to the report. “We also believe that no one should use faith as a guise for discrimination, and that all students deserve to enter a school environment knowing they will be protected.”

The report complains that under current law, “the Department of Education has little discretion to deny requests by religiously affiliated colleges and universities for an exemption under Title IX,” and suggests that not only should the Department require schools to “publicize the number of exemptions that are requested and received,” but also that it should publish an annual report of its own documenting those statistics.

Yet several individuals who are close to the issue told The Daily Signal that they see those proposals as a way of curtailing religious liberty in the name of tolerance.

“If we were unable to choose faculty members who both live out and have a traditional view of Christian sexual morality, then that really damages our ability to pursue our mission as an institution,” said Hunter Baker, a fellow for religious liberty at Union University, one of the schools listed in the report. “You’re making it illegal for us to insist on a Christian life and worldview.”

Noting that the university adheres to a traditional view of marriage due to its affiliation with the Baptist Church, he added that “any kind of activity that would occur between two same-sex individuals would be unacceptable by our standards of conduct.”

Roger Severino, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, was even more forceful, equating the Human Rights Campaign’s recommendations to an attempt to “blacklist religiously-affiliated schools.”

Arguing that “we need more diversity in higher education institutions, not less,” Severino said it was counterproductive to publicly shame institutions merely for exercising “their right to continue to embody and pass on their teachings about marriage and human sexuality consistent with their faith.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete