The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating six Christian universities for allegedly violating the rights of LGBT-identified students by upholding Christian teaching on sexuality, relationships and marriage.
The department was already investigating Clarks Summit University, in Pennsylvania, Illinois’ Lincoln Christian University, and Colorado Christian University. The three new schools under investigation are La Sierra University and Azusa Pacific University, both in California, and Liberty University, in Virginia.
The attack on religious freedom began when an anti-religious freedom organization, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), filed a lawsuit against the DOE on behalf of 33 LGBT-identified students who were either enrolled in or alumni of Evangelical Christian or Mormon colleges.
The complaint, Elizabeth Hunter et al. vs. U.S. Department of Education, alleges that universities that believe and practice God’s design for sexuality, relationships and marriage discriminate against LGBT-identified students.
The lawsuit seeks “to put an end to the U.S. Department of Education’s complicity in the abuses and unsafe conditions thousands of LGBTQ+ students endure at hundreds of taxpayer-funded, religious colleges and universities.”
Private religious colleges and universities can apply for an exemption to Title IX requirements from the DOE and still receive government funds through student loans, “to the extent that application of Title IX would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization.”
The DOE has reinterpreted Title IX, the 1972 act which banned discrimination in education on the basis of sex – being male or female. The government agency holds that sex discrimination includes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” two subjective, ever-evolving terms that relate to how people think, feel, identify and act, rather than to their biological status as men or women.
The original REAP lawsuit was filed in March, 2021, and it has grown to comprise 40 plaintiffs in 20 states, including at least one student who was expelled, allegedly for “being gay,” and his mother.
In the case of La Sierra University, Cameron Martinez, a “queer, non-binary person,” told the DOE the school’s policy and practices “endorse the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine on homosexuality, stating that sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman.”
Well, yes. Because that’s what Scripture teaches.
Martinez’ complaint said the school “is discriminating against the Student and other LGBTQ students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by refusing to officially recognize the LGBTQ student group on campus.”
At Azusa Pacific University, Jonathan Jones, who identifies “as a bisexual, non-binary, genderfluid person,” complained that the school discriminates against LGBT-identified students for the same reasons. First, “because its policies and practices, including in its current Student Handbook, prohibit sexual intimacy outside of marriage and endorse the doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman” and second, because it does not recognize an LGBT group on campus.
One wonders what students and their parents expect when they apply to and attend a Christian university.
At Liberty University, Lucas Wilson said he was discriminated against while attending the university from 2008 to 2012 because of the school’s “Statement on Sexuality and Relationships in the Student Honor Code and the role of the on-campus group called Armor Bearers.”
He also alleged the school discriminated because the school maintained “a policy that behavior reflecting LGBT identity was a violation of the Student Honor Code, and by encouraging him to participate in conversion therapy to avoid punishment.”
This “conversion therapy” (a meaningless term created by those who oppose leaving homosexuality or transgenderism) consisted of meeting with a school administrator, not a licensed therapist. Oh, and he participated in one meeting with the student group Armor Bearers.
It wasn’t until he graduated, rejected Christian teaching, and decided to live as a gay man that Wilson realized how much he’d been discriminated against.
Those are the new schools the DOE is investigating for upholding what the Church has taught and believed for two thousand years.
In addition, Attorneys General from 18 states and the District of Columbia filed an amicus brief, supporting the REAP lawsuit.
In October 2021, a federal district court issued an order allowing three Christian schools named in the lawsuit – Corban University, William Jessup University and Phoenix Seminary – to intervene in the suit to defend their own religious freedom rights under Title IX. The Alliance Defending Freedom filed the motion to intervene on their behalf.
The Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) also filed a motion to intervene in the legal challenge. In a statement, the organization highlighted the importance of Christian education:
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.
CCCU pointed to research showing that, in many key areas, LGBT-identified students actually “have better experiences than LGBTQ students at non-faith-based institutions.”
Related articles and resources:
The lawsuit is Elizabeth Hunter, et al., v. U.S. Department of Education
Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights: Investigation Documents
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