US Department of Education Sued by 33 Students Over LGBTQ Discrimination at Religious Colleges

CC0 / / A classroom without students
A classroom without students - Sputnik International, 1920, 31.03.2021
A civil rights law under the Education Amendment of 1972, Title IX, promises equal access to education for all students and protects them from discrimination based on sex. A subsection under this law has come under recent scrutiny over its exemption of educational institutions listed under religious organizations.

Dozens of former and current students from various institutions filed a class-action lawsuit against the US Department of Education on Monday over allegations that the religious exemption clause is unconstitutional because it violates the due process, as well as equal protection rights of LGBTQ students at religious colleges and universities.

The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court in Oregon on behalf of former and current students by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), an organization that advocates for LGBTQ students at federally-funded religious colleges and universities.

With the goal of removing Title IX’s religious exemption clause, the lawsuit demands the government prevent such institutions from using tax-payer funds to harm disadvantaged people, NBC News reported.

One of the plaintiffs, Daniel Powell, reports that she was expelled from Grace University and ordered to repay thousands of dollars in institutional scholarship funds after she came out as pansexual, which is prohibited by the school’s honor code.

A former student of Liberty University, Lucas Wilson, alleges in the lawsuit that he received conversion therapy while he was an undergraduate from 2008 to 2012, in addition to attending classes that taught “the evils of the homosexual lifestyle.”

In total, 33 former and current students are alleging in the suit that they faced discrimination at 25 federally-funded Christian colleges and universities across 18 different US states, “where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is codified in campus policies and openly practiced.”

Paul Southwick, who serves as the director of REAP, argues that the religious exemption “favors certain fundamentalist religious organizations, and gives them preferential treatment above all other educational institutions.” 

Additionally, in the lawsuit, Southwick calls on the examination of the case Bob Jones University v United States, where a district court decision prohibited the Internal Revenue Service from giving tax-exempt status to private schools engaging in racial discrimination under held religious beliefs. The ruling withstands a Supreme Court held decision that limitations on religious liberty can be justified by an “overriding governmental interest,”such as eradicating racial discriminaton.

Asked about the development, a spokesperson for the US Department of Education told Forbes in a statement that, as part of the Biden administration, it is “fully committed to equal education access for all students.” Earlier this month, Biden informed the American public that he intends to guarantee an educational environment free from discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

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