Religion schools get government waiver from discriminating against LGBT students, and still get government money

It’s one thing for private clubs and schools to be allowed to discriminate if they are purely private, getting no funds from the taxpayer nor catering to interstate commerce. It’s another thing entirely for government-funded organizations to be allowed to legally discriminate against people on the basis of religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. Such behavior may be legal (see below), but it’s immoral, and should be stopped.  And now the Obama administration is handing out permissions to discriminate to colleges funded by the government. (Earlier administrations gave government money to religious schools, but that was illegal, too, though not deemed so by the courts; and we’re talking Democrats here.)

Title IX, part of an education bill passed in 1972, prohibits gender discrimination in any institution receiving funds from the US government. It’s been successfully used to promote women’s sports, but also women’s participation in educational activities, clubs, organizations, and the like. It would seem to prohibit discrimination against LGBT students as well, given that it states this:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

However, the law also has an built-in exemption: if the organization is a religious one, it need not obey Title IX when gender equality “conflicts with the religious tenets” of that organization.

And, according to the Washington Post, schools are lining up for exemptions—exemptions allowed while the colleges are still getting taxpayer dosh:

Dozens of religious colleges have sought exemptions in recent years from federal prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, saying the waivers are needed to protect school policies consistent with their faith, according to a new report.

The government has granted more than 30 of these requests since 2013 [out of 56 requested], the Human Rights Campaign said in a report released Friday. The schools that obtained religious waivers from the anti-discrimination law known as Title IX ranged from Baptist-affiliated Anderson University in South Carolina to Quaker-affiliated George Fox University in Oregon.

Here are the schools that have gotten exemptions on the basis of sexual orientation (I presume this means whether or not you’re gay):

  • Anderson University of South Carolina
  • Baptist College of Florida
  • Bethel College of Indiana
  • Blue Mountain College of Mississippi
  • Charleston Southern University of South Carolina
  • Covenant College of Georgia
  • East Texas Baptist University of Texas
  • Hannibal-LaGrange University of Missouri
  • Howard Payne University of Texas
  • Judson College of Alabama
  • Louisiana College
  • Mississippi College
  • North Greenville University of South Carolina
  • Oklahoma Baptist University
  • Oklahoma Christian University
  • Southwest Baptist University of Missouri
  • Spring Arbor University of Michigan
  • Toccoa Falls College of Georgia
  • Union University of Tennessee
  • University of Mary Hardin-Baylor of Texas
  • University of Mobile in Alabama
  • University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky
  • Williams Baptist College in Arkansas

And here are the schools granted exemptions on the basis of gender identity (I presume this means whether you identify as a gender different from your “biological” sex. The schools listed above are included along with these:

  • Belmont Abbey College of North Carolina
  • Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio
  • Fresno Pacific University of California
  • George Fox University of Oregon
  • Northwest Nazarene University of Idaho
  • Oklahoma Wesleyan University
  • Simpson University of California
  • Southern Wesleyan University of South Carolina
  • St. Gregory University of Oklahoma
  • Tabor College of Kansas

What kind of exemptions are granted? Pretty much the ability to not respect someone’s sexual orientation or self-assigned gender identity. Here’s one statement by a religious school:

“We do not … support or affirm the resolution of tension between one’s biological sex and the experience of gender by the adoption of a psychological identity discordant with one’s birth sex, nor attempts to change one’s birth sex by surgical intervention, nor conduct or dress consistent with an identity other than one’s biological birth sex,” Belmont Abbey President William K. Thierfelder wrote on Jan. 16. “We will make institutional decisions in light of this policy regarding housing, student admission and retention, appropriate conduct, employment, hiring and retention, and other matters.”

A transgender male at George Fox University (a Quaker school!) was denied a request to live with his friends (the person was considered female by the school), with the president noting, ““We also separate the value of each person from the behavioral choices one makes.” As if such things were a choice! But of course that’s what the faithful believe. I would have thought the Quakers were more empathic than that.

This is insupportable, especially because many schools that have these exemptions don’t publicize them. Yes, a private religious school can discriminate all it wants, but once it receives government funding, that discrimination is off the table—whether by sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  The government should not be funding any such discrimination, which is clearly a violation of the First Amendment. And remember, it’s the Obama Administration that’s granting these exemptions!

By all means let a school protect its silly faith-based discrimination, but it has no right to take my money to do so. These exemptions should be ended now.



  1. rickflick
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    It is deeply disappointing that our first black president is so undisturbed with the promotion of unconstitutional discrimination. I can’t fathom how this could be in any way helpful to him and his legacy or to society. All I can guess is there is some subtle political calculus that evades my understanding.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted December 18, 2015 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Is “calculus” a metaphor for mathematical computation, or a metaphor for the older dentist’s term for plaque/tartar that builds up on your teeth by mineralization of dead bacteria??

      • Filippo
        Posted December 18, 2015 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        As part of ones personal political calculus, one should check U.S. presidential candidates’ teeth before voting for them.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 18, 2015 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that.

    • Victoria
      Posted December 18, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      To put on my radical feminist hat for a moment, race is the prejudice that affects heterosexual men, so it is always the prejudice that rules people’s thinking. The primacy of racism is, for example, why Islam is treated with such deference by many otherwise committed feminists, both on principle and to maintain personal social standing.

      There are many liberal men who care about LGBT rights and misogyny, but not with that zero-tolerance mindset that pervades racial issues. Women face orders of magnitude more violence committed against them by men for in some way violating the expectation of them as women, than all the racist crimes perpetrated by whites put together. Yet when is the last time a politician said we needed a ‘national conversation’ on misogyny after a woman was found murdered by her husband, a serial killer, a rapist, etc. it just doesn’t happen.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 18, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        A big reason race is so prominent is slavery and the civil war. The effects linger like a bad cold. It is justifiable to be extra sensitive about race in America but, unfortunately it has lead to a crippling of our capacity as a nation to deal coolly and rationally with, for example, radical Islam.

        • Victoria
          Posted December 18, 2015 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          That’s my point, it is not justifiable to privilege race if you really look at the full scope of historical abuses against women. The parallels between historical treatment of women and slavery are considerable, and the abuses of women as women impacted a much larger share of the populace. When you factor in the contemporary rate of violence by men against women versus the rate of violence by whites against non-whites, it’s not even close as to which should be a policy priority.

          • Pierre Masson
            Posted December 18, 2015 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

            Very well put, Victoria. I agree completely.

          • rickflick
            Posted December 18, 2015 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

            Yes this is an important point. It’s hard though to obtain as much sympathy for women as for blacks simply because slavery and the Civil War are seen as defining moments in American History of monumental proportions. The violence against women is seen in the context of a continuum with no important milestone or demarcation point, as desirable as that might be. Let us hope that, in the future, such a milestone is not needed for recognition of the problem and redress is forthcoming posthaste.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 18, 2015 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        Women have suffered massive inequality since time immemorial. That inequality has been prevalent, as well, in this country — both de facto and de jure, in that women were denied universal suffrage and the right to own property in their own name, until a couple of decades into the 20th century.

        And the patriarchy is, of course, very much with us still.

        But women in this nation were never subjected to the abject inequality of blacks (both men and women, let us remember) under slavery and its successor, Jim Crow. Owned and sold as chattel. Subject to customs, mores, and laws, the intent of which was to destroy their family as a social unit. Public lynchings, and terrorization by the Klan and White Citizens Councils. Absolute and total isolation from any source of power — political, economic, educational — even indirectly through marriage and family connection, for generation, after generation, after generation. Shunted off to live in ghettoes and sharecroppers shacks.

        That, no doubt accounts, at least in part, for the discrepancies you cite.

  2. Scott Draper
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    “The government should not be funding any such discrimination, which is clearly a violation of the First Amendment. ”

    Even if they weren’t discriminating in this way, the schools are still promoting a religious point of view, which makes government funding troublesome.

  3. Kevin
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Protecting the religious with exemption. It is their God given right. Codswallop.

    The interior of these organizations should ultimately prevail. Surely there are students, even if just a few, at these schools who think this is unfair. That is the best place for change to start.

    On another note, Title IX, is incredibly unfair because of American College football, which is as pernicious as the NFL. Football should be removed from the equation. Until then men’s swimming, soccer, volleyball, tennis, water polo, track and field, etc., will all suffer from disbandment or egregious inequality of funds.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 19, 2015 at 3:57 am | Permalink

      Agree with your point about football, Ken, and the subsequent backlash against women for the Title IX problems of the less-prominent male sports makes IX quite the Pyrrhic victory in many cases.

      • Erik1986
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        One really odd outcome of Title IX in California is that Fresno State College instituted an equestrian program – strictly limited to women. What? Guys don’t ride horses? Someone tell all those cowboys! Yes, the general interest in riding, especially the “English” disciplines in this country, is primarily female, but the only reason this program is “women only” is to satisfy the requirement to have a “female” sport. Sigh. (I’m a woman and I find this particular instance of creating a “women’s sport” ridiculous)

  4. Randy Schenck
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Not only should they not be funding them, they should be illegal in discriminating against them religious or not. How should religion get a pass on discrimination. If the students were black could they discriminate?

    So unlike the average public school, they do not have to accommodate this minority in any way. Looks as if we still have a long way to go.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    These decisions are indefensible as a matter of policy or doctrine. Nevertheless, it’s probably smart politics. Barack doesn’t need the usual suspects bellyaching about their “freedoms” and “liberty” right now.

    In this respect, it’s a realpolitik gift (whether intended as such or not) for Hillary, since she would be the one to suffer the religiosi’s wrath at the polls next November (and to be put in a firestorm of controversy now had the decisions gone the other way).

    • Diane G
      Posted December 19, 2015 at 4:03 am | Permalink

      Agree. Those are almost all pretty tiny colleges that few have heard of anyway. The risk of stirring up the political hornets’ nest by “threatening religious liberty” right now is probably much worse than letting the status quo slide for a while. Yes, it’s sausage-making, but we have to keep our eyes on electing someone who’ll not tip the SCOTUS even further to the right, possibly for decades to come.

  6. Historian
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I oppose any business, whether profit or nonprofit (including religious educational institutions), from getting any special exemption whatever the reason, on religious grounds. This includes private businesses (Hobby Lobby) being allowed to opt out of providing contraception coverage in health care insurance policies they provide to employees.

    I am particularly opposed to tax breaks for these entities and individuals based on religious affiliation or belief. I am quite annoyed that individuals can deduct from their federal income taxes contributions to churches. As Turbotax puts it: “As long as you itemize your deductions, you can generally claim 100 percent of your church donations as a deduction.” In effect, I am subsidizing religious organizations. Of course, my wishes are unlikely to be fulfilled anytime soon. As we all know, religion is privileged in American society, always has been, and probably always will be.

  7. Merilee
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    So worng!

  8. Posted December 18, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    There should be no tax support for religious schools that promote separation of the religious “elite” from the ungodly hoi polloi. None!I went to such a school for a year after high school. (No drinking, smoking, swearing, dancing, playing cards, wearing makeup, etc. Lots of praying in class, mandatory courses on Old and New Testaments, required chapel and church attendance.)

    Discrimination of any sort should not be allowed in these schools. Let them prove the efficacy of their beliefs by permitting people of all kinds and faiths to learn together. (Refer again to the Posner discussion on making access to ISIS internet sites illegal and punishable.) More diversity is needed, not less, and more knowledge of belief systems of others. One can not counteract what is not known.

    And NO public tax support!!

  9. mordacious1
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Should all-women colleges get public money? There’s at least 40 of these in the US and I presume most of them get federal money.

  10. Filippo
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    What DOEd bureaucrat/functionary (or committee of them) is charged with making this determination, and what qualifies him/her/it to make it?

    The Washington Post says, “The government has granted more than 30 of these requests since 2013 [out of 56 requested] . . . .” The HRC report says, “While the Department of Education has little discretion to deny these requests for exemptions . . . .”

    Well, they apparently have enough discretion to deny nearly half of those submitted, eh? (And on what bases?) Why not approve them all if the word “religion” is uttered at least once in the application? (Or just as easily reject them all for that matter?)

    A couple of comments posted below the HRC statement:

    “Working now with congress folks to redo Title IX, or repeal it . Need lots work. And if you don’t like a school, why go there, still figuring that one out.”


    “Religious schools shouldn’t be forced to violate their faith. If you don’t agree with the tenets of a given religion, then don’t go to a school associated with it.”

    Of course, if no one of LGBT orientation goes to these schools and challenges them, perhaps odds are the status quo will remain? Do these schools have a Y/N question on the application to the effect, “Are you LGBT?”

    • Mark R.
      Posted December 18, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      Do these schools have a Y/N question on the application to the effect, “Are you LGBT?”

      I wondered about this too. Sad to say that I wouldn’t be surprised if they could. It seems with this kind of legal discrimination, it would be perfectly legal to ask such a question. Of course, no savvy LGBT person would check “Yes”. But it could be used as a deterrent to LGBT students.

      On a number of issues, Obama is a very confused ‘liberal’ President.

      • Randy Schenck
        Posted December 18, 2015 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        I would say he is about as liberal as Hilary and that’s not much. Also, he has been a master at running for office but extremely dull at managing the thing after obtaining it.

        • mordacious1
          Posted December 18, 2015 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

          Hilary is more of a centrist, like her husband. Obama is much further to the left than she is, just not as far as someone like Bernie. That’s why I’m willing to vote for her and I wouldn’t vote for Obama if he could run again. I cannot stand either the far right or the far left (even if you’re only far left on some issues, like Obama).

  11. jerbearinsantafe
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Fairy JerBear's Queer/Trans News, Views & More From The City Different – Santa Fe, NM and commented:
    It would seem that if you want to be free to discriminate against Trans students in violation of Title IX then you also don’t get government assistance. If you accept the money then you should follow the rules!

  12. Mark R.
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    And of course no surprise that 24 of the 33 colleges/universities reside in the South. If you count Indiana and Missouri as part of the South, then chalk up 3 more.

    The evidence continues to mount that the religious hold irrational, abnormal and unhealthy views of sex and sexuality.

  13. Posted December 19, 2015 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    And this goes hand-in-hand with keepimg the Muslims out… Appalling.

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