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‘Existential threat’: CCCU fights LGBT students' Title IX lawsuit targeting Christian colleges

CCCU seeks to uphold rights of Christian colleges amid 'open hostility' from Biden admin.

CCCU
Presidents of religious colleges converse in the hallway of the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C., during the 2019 Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Presidents Conference on Feb.1, 2019. |

A leading association of over 180 Protestant colleges and universities is coming to the defense of Christian colleges amid a lawsuit filed by former and current LGBT students who seek to revoke religious schools’ exemptions to Title IX discrimination law. 

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities filed a motion to intervene in a legal challenge against the U.S. Department of Education seeking to strip federal financial aid from college students who attend faith-based institutions that espouse biblical beliefs on marriage, gender and sexuality. 

The lawsuit was filed in March by an advocacy organization called Religious Exemption Accountability Project on behalf of 33 LGBT former and current students who felt discriminated against on 25 faith-based campuses across the country.  

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act forbids sex-based discrimination in education. Faith-based institutions that uphold biblical definitions for marriage and sexuality can request a religious exemption that allows them to adhere to scriptural beliefs on matters of sexuality. 

The legal challenge essentially seeks to restrict students at faith-based institutions that adhere to traditional sexuality and gender beliefs from receiving tuition grants, student loans and any other form of federal financial assistance. 

In a statement, the CCCU called the lawsuit "frivolous." 

“Faith-based higher education has always been an essential element of the diversity of higher education in the United States — many of the first colleges and universities in the country were religious — and it is crucial that students continue to be given the opportunity to choose and access the college of their choice in a diverse educational landscape," the Washington, D.C.-based council argued.

Most of the plaintiffs of the lawsuit are former or current students of CCCU institutions. CCCU is an advocacy organization that claims over 140 member schools across the U.S., many of which subscribe to “sincerely held biblical beliefs, which include specific religious convictions around human sexuality and gender.”

Policies based on those beliefs could result in LGBT student clubs not gaining official campus recognition, transgender students not being housed in dorm rooms that correspond with their gender identity or prohibitions against same-sex sexual relationships. 

According to CCCU, those schools “are transparent about their policies and behavior guidelines, which students voluntarily agree to when they choose to attend the institution.” CCCU noted that many of its schools have “core religious tenets that conflict with the Plaintiffs’ understanding of Title IX.” 

"Campuses work hard to ensure that potential students understand their institution and its religious identity and want to be a part of that community,” the CCCU statement continues. 

CCCU’s motion to intervene contends that removing Title IX’s religious exemption poses an “existential threat to religious higher education.” Additionally, it “will deprive religious colleges of the oxygen that gives them life by forbidding them, on pain of losing federal assistance for their students, from teaching and expecting adherence to their core religious beliefs.”

“To CCCU’s member colleges, the Title IX religious exemption has proven indispensable as contemporary notions of sexuality and gender depart, often substantially, from the religious beliefs that animate every aspect of Christian campus life,” CCCU’s motion states. 

CCCU’s motion to intervene argues the Biden administration is opposed to upholding Title IX religious exemptions and said the rights of religious colleges “will go unrepresented and, thus, unprotected.”

“There is ample evidence that the current administration will not only fail to make the points necessary to defend Title IX’s religious exemptions as applied to sexual and gender minorities, but it may also instead be openly hostile to them,” CCCU’s motion states.

Students represented in the REAP lawsuit include current and former students of schools like Bob Jones University, Liberty University, Baylor University, Cedarville University and Brigham Young University. 

“REAP’s lawsuit asserts the constitutional and basic human rights of LGBTQ+ students, seeking to end the sexual, physical and psychological abuses perpetrated under the religious exemption to Title IX at thousands of federally-funded schools, colleges and universities across America,” according to REAP’s website.

The lawsuit claims that such policies at Christian schools led to the abuse and bullying of LGBT students. However, the CCCU has denied that claim. 

"While this lawsuit presents frivolous legal claims, the CCCU takes reports of student experience seriously," the CCCU statement reads.

"We are committed to learning, growing, and deepening our understanding of how we can provide and strengthen support for all students on Christian college and university campuses, as CCCU institutions should be places where all students feel safe, supported, and welcome. We know the college experience can be stressful, and even more so for LGBTQ students who are working to understand how their sexual orientation or gender identity intersects with their personal faith."

Alliance Defending Freedom, a national religious liberty advocacy legal group, filed a motion in April to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of college students at Corban University in Oregon, William Jessup University in California and Phoenix Seminary in Arizona to protect the colleges’ religious exemptions to Title IX. 

“This lawsuit [filed by REAP] wants the federal government to tell Christian schools, ‘To continue accepting students who have federal financial aid, all you have to do is to start acting contrary to your own beliefs.’ That’s neither reasonable nor constitutional,” ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman said in a statement.

CCCU asserts its member colleges will only be able to “further their religious missions if they are able to teach and adhere to their doctrines without interference from the government.”

“... [This litigation] threatens to suffocate religious higher education in America. For these reasons, combined with the fact that only religious colleges can fully understand the importance of the exemption and the current Administration’s open hostility to the arguments necessary to fully defend the Title IX religious exemption, CCCU is entitled to intervene as of right,” CCCU’s motion argues. 

Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: emily.wood@christianpost.com

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