WASHINGTON (WNS) – An LGBT activist group has singled out 56 Christian colleges – including two Missouri Baptist universities – in a recent report, claiming they use religious liberty as a “guise for discrimination” against LGBT students.
Since 2013, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), these 56 colleges have applied for partial exemptions to Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, citing views on transgenderism and homosexuality. Among the institutions singled out are 23 U.S. colleges and universities with Southern Baptist ties, including two schools aligned with the Missouri Baptist Convention, Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal and Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.
The group called on Congress and the Department of Education to broadcast information about these schools to prospective students. As a result, the Department of Education – at the request of several liberal U.S. Senators – announced that it would post a list of schools that have received the exemption.
“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. “Prospective students and their parents deserve greater transparency.”
Title IX mandates educational institutions not discriminate “on the basis of sex,” but it grants provisions for military training institutions, schools with a history of admitting only one gender, and cases where the law “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”
C. Pat Taylor, president of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, expressed his gratitude for exemptions within Title IX that protect religious liberty.
“From its inception in 1878, Southwest Baptist University has been a distinctively Christian and Baptist institution with a Christian worldview,” Taylor said. “SBU also is a caring community where we treat every student with love and respect. We are thankful for this exemption that allows us to uphold our Baptist heritage while also being compliant with the law.
Anthony Allen, president of Hannibal-LaGrange University, noted that the Title IX exemption would not have applied if Missouri Baptist schools were not aligned with a religious organization with strong “religious tenets” about the biblical definition of sexuality and marriage.
“The basis for this exemption is due to the fact that Hannibal-LaGrange is controlled by the Missouri Baptist Convention and has the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BFM 2000) as its doctrinal statement,” Allen said. The BFM 2000 includes an article regarding marriage that clearly denounces homosexual acts and same-sex marriage.
“Interestingly, those institutions that no longer enjoy the protection from their convention or denominational entities will not be granted a provision for ‘religious tenets,’” Allen said. “While we are grateful for the protection under the law, it is disturbing to know that Christian institutions are increasingly being pressured to compromise their religious convictions. This scenario further illustrates that there is a growing cultural divide in America. We have already experienced pressure to bow at the altar of moral relativism. Now is the time when Christians in general and Southern Baptists in particular need to stand up and fight for religious liberty.”
Other Christian schools say they’re being unfairly targeted for something that is perfectly legal.
“It appears to me to be discriminatory to select some institutions to be published rather than including all educational institutions,” Abbot Placid Solari, chancellor of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, said.
Solari emphasized his school’s conviction to treat all people with love and respect.
“We are not able, however, in good conscience, to support or affirm choices and behaviors that conflict with our identity as a Catholic, Benedictine institution,” he said.
Conscience objections are a problem for HRC, which cites stories of “discrimination” against students like “Jayce,” a female transgender student at George Fox University who wanted to live in male housing. The report states the school denied her request and made her live “with a bunch of young women.” Jayce filed a complaint against George Fox but lost after the Department of Education granted the Title IX exemption.
The report also called out Southwestern Christian University for expelling lesbian student Christian Minard when she married her female partner. The university’s lifestyle covenant prohibits behavior such as alcohol and drug use, “and any form of self-destructive or immoral behavior, including sexual promiscuity, gambling, and financial dishonesty.”
For decades, religious schools have been able to set rules for students regarding gender identity and sexual orientation and did not feel the need to request exemptions from Title IX.
But the political climate changed in 2013 with the settlement between California’s Arcadia United School District and the U.S. Department of Education. The battle started over a middle school girl who decided to take on a male identity. The school made her change clothes before gym class in the nurse’s bathroom and sleep in her own cabin during a school field trip.
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Justice Department concluded the school district needed to “treat the student like all other male students.”
After that, religious schools began clamoring for official exemption from Title IX. In 2013, one school requested an exemption; in 2014, 13 made the request; and in 2015, 43. Ten of those schools, including Belmont, referenced the Arcadia settlement as a reason for the request.
In response, HRC wants “full transparency” for schools requesting exemptions and asks the Education Department to publish a list of requestors. It also wants colleges to make information about exemption requests readily available to parents and students.
But schools like Belmont say HRC’s demands are an “infringement of the right of religiously affiliated institutions to conduct themselves in keeping with their religious principles,” Solari said.
Hunter Baker, a fellow for religious liberty at Union University, told the Daily Signal the transparency HRC demands would be a “major intrusion” on school standards for student conduct.
“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,” he said. “You’re making it illegal for us to insist on a Christian life and worldview.”