What a Title IX lawsuit could mean for religious universities | News, Sports, Jobs


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The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of information, analysis, and commentary from academic experts. The Conversation is fully responsible for the content. Today’s play is by William Trollinger and Susan L Trollinger of the University of Dayton.

(THE CONVERSATION) The Religious Exemption Accountability Project, or REAP, filed a class action lawsuit on March 26, 2021, accusing the US Department of Education of being an accomplice “in the abuse thousands of LGBTQ + students endured at taxpayer-funded religious colleges and universities.”

According to the lawsuit, these abuses include “Conversion therapy, eviction, denial of housing and health care, sexual and physical abuse and harassment”. Abuse also includes “Less visible, but no less damaging consequences of institutionalized shame, fear, anxiety and loneliness”.

REAP – an organization that aims to “A world where LGBTQ students from all campuses are treated equally” – holds the Ministry of Education guilty, arguing that under the federal law on civil rights Title IX, it is obliged “To protect students from sexual and gender minorities in schools funded by taxpayers” schools, including “Private and religious educational establishments”.

The 33 plaintiffs in the lawsuit include students and alumni from 25 colleges. Most of these schools – including Liberty University and Baylor University – are evangelical, but the list also includes a Mormon university and a Seventh-day Adventist university.

Indeed, the implications of the lawsuit extend to the more than 200 religious schools that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. In 2018, these schools received $ 4.2 billion in federal assistance.

As scholars who write extensively on evangelicalism from a historical and rhetorical perspective, we contend that, whether successful or not, this trial poses a serious challenge to these religious schools.

Hang on to values

Historian Adam Laats argued in his 2008 book, Fundamentalist U, that evangelical colleges are always engaged in a balancing act.

They had to convince accreditation bodies, faculty and students that they were legitimate and welcoming higher education institutions. At the same time, as Laats says, they “Had to demonstrate in front of a skeptical evangelical audience” – alumni, pastors, para-ecclesiastical leaders and donors – that they hold firmly to the “Spiritual and cultural imperatives that distinguish them”.

These requirements differ from school to school, but they can include both doctrinal commitments and lifestyle restrictions. For example, teachers are often required to assert that the Bible is infallible – that is, without error and factually true in everything it teaches. For another example, students and staff at many of these institutions must make a commitment not to consume alcoholic beverages.

And as Laats points out, these schools are forced to support the idea that these “Imperatives” are eternal and unchanging.

Racial issues and change

But it turns out that evangelical imperatives are subject to forces of change. Take, for example, the issue of race.

In the mid-20th century, administrators at many of these schools insisted that their policies of racial segregation were Bible-based and essential to the Christian faith. It is no coincidence that by mid-century segregation was part of mainstream American culture, including higher education.

But as the rhetoric of the civil rights movement became more and more convincing, administrators of evangelical schools cautiously moved away from their racist practices. By the 1970s, things had changed to the point where racial segregation no longer amounted to the status of a “imperative.”

Of course, there were a few religious schools – including Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina – that continued to practice racial discrimination and got away with the religious exemption they claimed. This all changed in 1983 when the Supreme Court ruled in Bob Jones University v. United States, that BJU “was unable to maintain his tax-exempt status due to a ban on dating interracial – a policy the university claimed was based on its sincere religious beliefs.”

The court ruling meant that BJU and similar schools had to make a choice. They could maintain racist policies like banning interracial dating, or abandon them and retain their tax-exempt status as educational institutions. While BJU held on for a while, by 2000, he abandoned his ban on interracial dating.

Push and resistance to change

REAP is relying on the court’s ruling against Bob Jones University as a legal precedent for its lawsuit. And this lawsuit comes at a difficult time for evangelical schools that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

As political scientist Ryan Burge noted – drawing on data from the General Social Survey – in 2008, only 1 in 3 white evangelists between the ages of 18 and 35 believed that same-sex couples should have the right to to marry. But in 2018, he found that “Nearly 65% ​​of evangelicals between 18 and 35 years old [supported] same sex marriage, “ a change in line with the radical change of opinion in the culture at large.

In response, administrators at many evangelical schools have recently adopted a rhetoric that is conciliatory to LGBTQ students and their sympathetic allies on and off campus. As Shane Windmeyer, co-founder of Campus Pride, a national organization dedicated to creating a safer college environment for LGBTQ students, recently observed, most Christian colleges “want to obscure this problem and be supportive [of LGBTQ students] because they know it will impact recruiting and admissions.

But in most of these colleges, this conciliatory rhetoric has not translated into the removal of discriminatory policies on the basis of sexual orientation. And there is a reason for this. As several researchers, including ourselves, have amply documented, opposition to homosexuality is at the heart of the Christian right, which is dominated by evangelicals and which has presented the promotion of LGBTQ rights as an attack on them. faithful Christians.

“The big sort”

Evangelical colleges have had to perform in front of two very different audiences when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity. People in both hearings pay close attention to the REAP trial. Their responses indicate that “The two audiences” strategy may no longer be tenable.

See, for example, Seattle Pacific University, an evangelical school founded in 1891 and affiliated with the Free Methodist Church. On April 19 of this year, 72% of professors voted to vote no confidence in its board. This came after administrators refused to revise a policy banning the hiring of LGBTQ people and refused to change SPU’s statement on human sexuality which states that the only permitted expression of sexuality is “As part of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman.

Adding to the pressure is the announcement that “Students and alumni are planning a campaign to discourage school donations and… decrease school enrollment. “

In a subsequent article in Roys Report, a Christian media outlet that reported on the development, several commentators indicated overwhelming opposition to any effort to end discriminatory SPU policies. As one person noted: “I’m sorry to hear this after Bible school hired so many awakened teachers.” Another said: “God hates everything LGBTQ.” A third person observed: “I am a Christian and a long-time resident of the Seattle area. I mean for the board of the SPU, but sad, they have so many professors with degraded minds. “

As Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler said, “We’re about to see a big sort of where we’re going to find out where each institution is at, and that won’t come with the filing of this lawsuit. That will come when the moment the federal government says… ‘You can have federally funded student aid… or you can have your beliefs. Choose yourself today.

It comes from a pure and hard fundamentalist. On the other hand, there are administrators and professors in evangelical colleges who see discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as being at odds with their Christian commitments. For them, the choice is to accept financial donations from the segment of their constituency opposed to LGBTQ rights, or to follow their convictions.

There are indications that the Biden administration is seeking a compromise with those schools that claim a religious exemption that gives them the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and / or gender identity. But whether the REAP trial is successful or not, religious colleges and universities in the United States will continue to be under pressure to take a stand on the status of LGBTQ students on their campuses.

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The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of information, analysis, and commentary from academic experts. The Conversation is fully responsible for the content.

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