Thirty-three students have filed a new class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that the government agency provides federal funding and support to religious schools that are then allowed to freely discriminate against LGBTQ students. The students involved in the suit say that they have faced discrimination at 25 federally funded Christian colleges and universities spread over 18 different states.
Jo Yurcaba of NBC News has reported that the class-action suit contains allegations of classes where students were taught “the evils of the homosexual lifestyle,” told to attend conversion therapy and encouraged on all levels to fight against same-sex attraction.
“The Religious Exemption Accountability Project, or REAP, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ students at taxpayer-funded religious colleges and universities, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon on behalf of former and current students,” Yurcaba reported.
Pointing out the offenses that occurred during the previous administration and that the agency was moving to be more inclusive in recent months, a spokesperson for the Department of Education told the NBC reporter that the Biden administration is “fully committed to equal-education access for all students” and pointed to the executive order issued earlier this month that said, “It is the policy of my Administration that all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Still, Yurcaba added that “many Christian colleges and universities receive federal funding and are still allowed to enforce policies that, for example, prohibit same-sex relationships on campus.”
The reason? A federal civil rights law called Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination but with a caveat that exempts religious entities. The goal of this new lawsuit, in part, is to strike that religious exemption from the law.
“The students’ lawsuit argues that the religious exemption is unconstitutional and that it allows the Department of Education ‘to breach its duty’ to LGBTQ students at religious colleges and universities ‘where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is codified in campus policies and openly practiced,’” Yurcaba reported.
In an interview with NBC, Paul Southwick, the director of REAP, said the lawsuit stems from the premise that the federal government is “not allowed to pass laws or take actions that target a politically unpopular group.”
“What the religious exemption to Title IX is doing is [targeting] people based on sex, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity, for inferior treatment,” he said.
According to Yurcaba, “[Southwick’s] argument claims that the religious exemption is unconstitutional because it violates the due process and equal protection rights afforded to LGBTQ people and it violates the establishment clause because it ‘favors certain fundamentalist religious organizations and gives them preferential treatment above all other educational institutions, including religious educational institutions that have affirming beliefs about LGBTQ people.’”