ST. LOUIS – Missouri Baptist University’s application for exemption from Title IX has been questioned by the U.S. Department of Education because of the actions it took in 2001 to separate from the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Religious schools and colleges may request an exemption from Title IX if they hold sincere religious convictions about sex or gender and if the school is owned and controlled by a church or religious denomination.
In a January 4, 2016, letter from the Department’s Office for Civil Rights, posted on the agency’s website (at tinyurl.com/zttj62s), Deputy Assistant Secretary Seth Galanter notes that when MBU applied in 1996 for an exemption, it stated that the college was “controlled by the Missouri Baptist Convention and all members of (its) board of trustees . . . are elected by the Convention.”
“Based on that description, OCR determined that “[t]his relationship between the Missouri Baptist Convention and the College establish that Missouri Baptist College is controlled by a religious organization as is required for consideration for exemption.”
The deputy notes, however, that the University’s application letter in 2015 states that “(s)ince its foundation the University has maintained a close, symbiotic relationship with the Baptist community of believers and is governed by trustees who are members of Baptist churches in Missouri. The board of trustees of Missouri Baptist University consists of twenty-seven persons, seventy-five percent (75%) of whom are required by the University’s Articles of Incorporation to be members of Baptist churches located in Missouri.”
The deputy concludes: “Given these different descriptions, OCR requires further information to determine whether the University’s relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention continues to meet the standard for “control” as described above.”
MBU’s president Alton Lacey submitted a response letter on March 10, 2016, stating that although MBU is no longer controlled by MBC, so that “members of churches of the Baptist denomination” hav(e) a supermajority in the direction, operation and control of the University.”
Elsewhere in his response, Dr. Lacey advises the agency that Baptists commonly agree upon certain religious tenets and a view of the Scripture that is shared in common with the University, ” on such issues as marriage, co-habitation, homosexuality and transgender identity. Additional arguments are cited as to why the University should be exempt from Title IX’s rules against sex discrimination.
Footnote 3 of Dr. Lacey’s letter says “The Articles of Incorporation were amended and restated on August 23, 2001, among other reasons, to eliminate the appointment of trustees by the Missouri Baptist Convention, as a result of concerns that the assets of the University might be subjected to claims of third parties on theories of ascending and/or descending liability attributable to its relationship to the Missouri Baptist Convention.” The MBC also had the right to approve any amendments to the college articles of incorporation. The legality of the amendments without MBC approval are still pending in a Cole County Circuit court, where a trial judge ruled that such a right in the Missouri Baptist Foundation charter was enforceable. The parties are awaiting a ruling in the Foundation case by the Kansas City court of appeals, before proceeding with the case involving Missouri Baptist University.
When the White House announced in 2014 it would define sex discrimination to include gender identity, many evangelical schools requested an exemption. At least 30 Christian colleges have been granted an exemption, including Hannibal LaGrange University and Southwest Baptist University.
A statement explaining the exemption process on the Education Department’s website says “An educational institution which wishes to claim the exemption may do so by submitting in writing to the Assistant Secretary a statement by the highest ranking official of the institution, identifying the religious organization that controls the educational institution and the provisions of this part which conflict with a specific tenet of the religious organization.”
Missouri Baptist University is located in Clayton, Missouri, and was formerly affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention. After changing its charter to be a self-perpetuating board of directors, MBU claimed to be independent of control, but claimed that the Baptist General Convention of Missouri (aka Churchnet.org), and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, provide “a significant amount of financial support.”
Department of Education has not yet posted a response letter stating whether MBU will still qualify for Title IX exemption in spite of its lack of denominational control.