Christian university applying for a religious exemption under Title IX imposes religious test for employees

Biola University, a Christian school in Southern California originally founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, is asking its employees to reaffirm the school’s “Doctrinal Statement, two Theological Distinctives and the Standard of Conduct,” which have recently been updated to include strong anti-LGBT language. Employees are required to select whether they agree, agree with reservations or disagree with the policies — a requirement that has led them to fear for their jobs should they select the “wrong” answer, per a report from The Advocate.

And they have good reason to be worried. Per the school’s handbook:

Every employee of the University must agree and support the above Articles of Faith and shall be required to subscribe annually to the Articles of Faith. Any employee ceasing to believe the above Articles of Faith shall by that fact cease to be an employee of the University. No teaching or support of a position inconsistent with these Articles of Faith will be tolerated on the part of any employee of the University.

Two distinctives in particular, “Sanctity of Life” and “Definition of Marriage/Biblical Context for a Sexual Relationship,” are non-negotiable and “require the full agreement and support of all employees.”

This means that any Biola employee could be fired for disagreeing with the statement that “Biblical marriage consists only of a faithful, heterosexual union between one genetic male and one genetic female, and biblical marriage is the only legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship.”

Or for disagreeing with language that erases the very concept of trans people. As The Advocate continues:

Of special concern to some workers is language in the employee handbook. In September 2014, Biola added a section on “Institutional Statements on Human Sexuality and Transsexualism and Transgenderism” to the handbook. It states that “any act of sexual intimacy between two persons of the same sex” is immoral, and opposes “the adoption of a psychological identity discordant with one’s birth sex” or “attempts to change one’s given biological birth sex via medical intervention.”

This being the case, despite assurances from Biola’s administration that their policy in practice won’t be so absolute, it isn’t unreasonable for Biola’s employees to infer that affirming same-sex marriage, or even believing that trans people do in fact exist, could cost them their jobs.

None of this would be the concern of anyone outside the university, save for one problem: Biola is among the 27 Christian universities that have recently applied for a waiver under Title IX’s religious exemption, which will allow them to continue receiving federal funds despite their stated intention to discriminate against LGBT and LGBT-affirming students and faculty.

Biola received $6.8 million in federal funds last year. The 27 schools that have requested religious waivers in response to the federal government’s interpretation of Title IX to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity received a total of $130 million in federal funds in 2014. Like the federal funds that go to practically every college and university in the United States, the money was a combination of research grants and financial aid for tuition.

In a statement to The Advocate, Biola seemed well aware of the fact that were it not for this waiver they would be at risk of losing their federal funding, as their religious beliefs are very much in conflict with the federal government’s non-discrimination standards:

The Bible, via Pixabay

The Bible, via Pixabay

Biola operates in compliance with Title IX regarding discrimination on the basis of sex in its programs and activities. Title IX provides for a religious exemption where the application of Title IX may be in conflict with the religious tenets of a college or university. In the context of Biola’s sincerely held religious beliefs regarding issues of gender identity and expression, there is the potential for a conflict between positions taken by the Department of Education in its interpretation of the requirements under Title IX and Biola’s religious position. Accordingly, the University felt it was prudent to request an exemption on this basis should such a conflict occur.

I have still yet to hear a convincing argument — from these schools or from anyone else — as to why it makes sense for the federal government to continue subsidizing discrimination it has made a point to outlaw for everyone who can’t couch their discrimination in misinterpreted ancient theology.

Because while the case for religious organizations’ continued tax-exempt status is at least grounded in the secular case for non-profits’ tax exempt status, specific religious exemptions in non-discrimination laws aren’t. Private, non-profit secular universities can’t get a waiver allowing them to fire employees based on their (lack of) religious beliefs — even if they want to. That’s a special right reserved for the religious, and the Establishment Clause is pretty clear that special rights for particular religious beliefs are unconstitutional. It was wrong to establish that special right in 1972 when Title IX was originally passed, and it’s wrong to let that special right sit on the books today.

If Biola insists on rejecting same-sex marriage and denying the identity of trans students, they should do so on their own dime. The federal government has decided that discrimination of that nature is out of bounds for secular colleges. There’s no good reason for them to continue subsidizing it.


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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  • Because what I described above has nothing to do with the criteria for accreditation.

  • Demosthenes

    This is a common practice of evangelical schools. Wheaton College, a recipient of taxpayer money, forces staff (including faculty) to adhere to religious standards.

  • emjayay

    How do these places get accredited?

  • ComradeRutherford

    How is this legal? Who is approving these waivers? A Bush appointee?

  • hauksdottir

    One guy makes the sign of the cross with two fingers and another guy makes the sign of the cross with three fingers… how many love-thy-neighbor “Christians” died in the Huguenot Wars?

    In Russia, the Old Believers, entire families, decided to burn themselves alive inside the monasteries rather than crop their coats and beards.

    Etc..

    These aren’t different peoples, where skin color and language factor into the hatred, but people of the same religion tearing into each other with insane zeal. Fear of contamination surpassing fear of conversion as a cause for war to the death.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Get off the cross. Someone needs the wood.

  • Everyone knows only Muslims are allowed this. Muslims don’t have to bake cakes for gay couples either. Christians, you simply have the wrong religion. Only state sponsored Islam gets a pass.

  • dcinsider

    That is where the future bloodshed starts. No religious difference was ever settled diplomatically.

  • 2karmanot

    Withdraw all Federal funding including retroactive funding and TAX them.

  • We should be clear that this isn’t just about anti-lbgt discrimination. A number of college teaching jobs from religiously affiliated colleges (Wheaton College, for example) include a section in which the applicants must give their “testimony” or describe their religious faith. I’ve seen this at least a half dozen times in the last year. I usually just stop there thinking what hell it would be to teach at a place like that. But those schools are all receiving federal funding while discriminating. What difference does it make what religion a math teacher is? But they do care and do discriminate and do so openly.

  • Exactly what Baal said: Fine. They want to be a religious organization, be one. Give back every penny of federal taxpayer funding then. Every goddamned penny, including the money received previously. Want to discriminate for no reasons other than bigoted religious ones? Do it entirely with your own bigoted supporters’ money.

    It’s long past time to start taxing these organizations, too.

  • nicho

    Mankind will only be free when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. –Diderot

  • Baal
  • Assholes like this aren’t going to rest until they have a Christian Theocracy in place in the United States. But the question remains, which Christian sect is going to be the “right” one?

  • Baal

    That’s it. They can believe what they want. No institution has a constitutional right to federal subsidy.

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