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NCAA's draft constitution could force religious colleges to embrace 'gender equity,' critic fears

Track and field
Athletes compete in the 5,000-meter final during the Oregon Relays at Hayward Field on April 23, 2021, in Eugene, Oregon. |

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is doubling down on a commitment to “gender equity” as concerns grow about the impact of allowing biological males who identify as females to compete in women’s sports.

The NCAA, one of the largest governing bodies overseeing college sports in the United States, released a draft constitution last week that lists commitment to “diversity and inclusion” and “gender equity” among its core principles.

The document stresses that “activities of the Association, its divisions, conferences and member institutions shall be conducted in a manner free of gender bias” and requires “divisions, conferences and member institutions” to “commit to preventing gender bias in athletic activities and events, hiring practices, professional and coaching relationships, leadership and advancement opportunities.”

The draft constitution mandates that “it is the responsibility of the Association and each division, conference and member institution to comply with federal and state laws and ordinances, including with respect to gender equity, diversity and inclusion.”

In a statement, the NCAA said that “members across all three divisions will vote on the draft constitution at the 2022 NCAA Convention in January.” The Convention will take place from Jan. 19-22 in Indianapolis.

While the language used in the draft constitution was vague, critics fear its “gender equity” provision is a sign that the NCAA is doubling down on its policies that allow biologically male trans-identified students to compete on women’s athletics teams. 

In an blog post, Patrick Reilly of the Catholic education-focused Cardinal Newman Society warned of the implications for the NCAA draft constitution on religious institutions of higher education. He contends that “there is an agenda here that threatens religious institutions.”

“Based on the proposed new amendment to the NCAA Constitution, it might be that the NCAA would exclude faithful colleges like Belmont Abbey College, the Catholic University of America and the University of Mary from participation” if they refuse to “abandon their Catholic mission and conform to gender ideology by allowing biological males to play on girls’ sports teams and enter locker rooms,” he predicted. 

“It seems the new constitutional provision is intended to push out any college that stands by traditional and natural divisions of the sexes in college sports." 

Reilly added that the "irony of the campaign for LGBT nondiscrimination protections" is that "the nation’s majority of religious people will be targeted and subjected to all kinds of legally protected discrimination for maintaining their religious beliefs and truthful policies toward gender and sexuality." 

While the term “gender” is traditionally understood to mean either male or female, the Biden administration has interpreted federal civil rights law banning discrimination based on sex to also apply to sexual orientation and gender identity.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order “preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.” 

The executive order cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined that firing an employee because of their sexual orientation or gender identity violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based on sex. 

Later this year, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to U.S. schools announcing that it would “fully enforce” Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, initially created to provide equal opportunities to women and girls in education, “to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in education programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the department.”

For the NCAA, Reilly believes that there is an "easy fix" — "another amendment that recognizes the distinctive and appropriate needs of religious colleges."

"That is precisely what some Catholic colleges, together with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, proposed before the latest draft constitution — and yet their request was ignored," Reilly stated. "The language they suggested was quite simple: 'Consistent with the principles of institutional control, nothing herein should be construed to restrict or limit private religious institutions from adopting or maintaining policies consistent with their legal rights as private religious institutions.'"

He said the NCAA's failure to adopt the amendment is a "very clear signal that its intentions toward Catholic and other religious colleges are not good."

The draft constitution comes as female athletes have expressed concern about the ability of trans-identified males to compete on women’s sports teams at the collegiate level.

Most recently, female athletes at the University of Pennsylvania have accused the NCAA of violating the “integrity of women’s sports” by allowing trans-identified males to compete on women’s sports teams after one year of testosterone suppression treatment. 

Speaking anonymously to the sports website OutKick, female swimmers at the Ivy League school lamented that Lia Thomas, born Will Thomas, has been shattering records while competing on the Penn women’s swimming team after competing for three seasons on the men’s team. 

One athlete proclaimed that characterized the association’s embrace of trans-identified athletes like Thomas as “a slap in the face to female athletes “who train every day and give up so much for this sport.”

“While they say they care about all of us, our interests are in direct conflict with the interests of Lia in regard to fair competition and getting to compete,” she added. “While we support Lia as a person to make decisions for her own life, you cannot make that decision and then come impede on other people and their rights.”

In addition to citing religious objections, critics cite biological differences between males and females as the reason for their opposition to such policies. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that trans-identified male athletes continue to have a competitive advantage over their female counterparts after a year of hormone suppression. 

The American Civil Liberties Union, a progressive civil rights advocacy organization, has denied that any “unfair” advantage exists for trans-identified biological males who compete against women or girls.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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