Christian schools seek Title IX waivers to bar trans students

27 Christian schools across the South and West have been granted religious exemptions under Title IX that will allow them to bar LGBT students and faculty. Another nine schools have applications pending.

According to a report from Andy Birky of The Column, the recent wave of exemption requests has come following President Obama’s updated interpretation of Title IX in 2014 that the law “extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity,” meaning that institutions of higher education that receive federal funding could not discriminate on the basis of gender identity.

That is, unless they got a religious exemption. As the Birky wrote:

When Title IX was passed in 1972 to combat discrimination based on sex, Congress added a small but powerful provision that states that an educational institution that is “controlled by a religious organization” does not have to comply if Title IX “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”

These “right-to-discriminate” waivers were relatively rare until the last year. A handful were requested in the 1980s and 1990s, many by religious schools who wanted to ensure they could prevent women from being hired in leadership roles without running afoul of discrimination laws.

Now that Title IX has been interpreted to include protections for gender identity, schools are seeking religious exemptions to allow them to discriminate against trans students. The exemptions could also allow these religious institutions to avoid having to house same-sex couples, to say nothing of hiring faculty in same-sex relationships.

Not only have schools already used these waivers to expel trans students, and to defend themselves in the subsequent lawsuits, they are training each other as to how to organize their right to discriminate:

College classroom via Shutterstock

Come on, guys via Shutterstock

In addition to the webinar, the [Christian Legal Society] has developed sample language for schools to include in their official policies; if a school hasn’t yet developed a student handbook policy about its “sincerely held religious beliefs” about transgender students, they can copy CLS’. Many schools have done just that.

Ohio Christian University, Belmont Abbey, Biola, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Oklahoma Wesleyan University have language either identical or remarkably similar to the CLS sample language.

In addition to CLS, the CCCU has been hosting trainings and conferences since late 2014 that delve into the issue of Title IX exemptions.

Entire denominations are issuing resolutions in order to keep LGBT students out of their affiliated colleges and universities. For example, Baptist General Convention of Texas adopted a resolution in February on the “transgender agenda.” That resolution was aimed directly at garnering schools a Title IX exemption.

As is the case with other religious organizations, including religious schools, if they want to discriminate against people who don’t share their hateful religious beliefs, that’s their prerogative. But the insistence on discriminating while receiving government funds isn’t okay. And Christian schools are literally conspiring to do exactly that. Legally.

Bad enough that the government condones religious organizations’ discrimination by making them tax-exempt; it continues to finance their discrimination by leaving exemptions like these on the books.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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