LGBT Students and Alumni Sue to Stop Title IX Religious Exemptions at Their Colleges and Universities

In a full-scale assault on religious freedom, thirty-three LGBT-identified plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit to end Title IX religious exemptions for religious colleges. Most the students attend or graduated from Christian colleges and universities, including Baylor University, Cedarville University, Colorado Christian College, Fuller Theological Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University, Moody Bible Institute and Westmont College.

The suit also lists Mormon graduates from Brigham Young University, founded and supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a sister school, Brigham Young University-Idaho.

The complaint, “Elizabeth Hunter et al. vs. U.S. Department of Education” (DOE) was filed in the U.S. District Court in Oregon, by REAP, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project. Title IX is a federal civil rights law, passed in 1972, that forbids discrimination in education on the basis of “sex” – being male or female.

The class action suit alleges that sex discrimination should include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” It seeks to “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 complaint objects to those exemptions, saying they leave “students unprotected from the harms of conversion therapy, expulsion, denial of housing and healthcare, sexual and physical abuse and harassment, as well as the less visible, but no less damaging, consequences of institutionalized shame, fear, anxiety and loneliness.” Opponents of religious freedom call religious exemptions a “license to discriminate.”

The lawsuit is named after a student who graduated from Bob Jones University. Elizabeth Hunter was in the foster care system until she was ten years old, grew up in a family that was part of a cult and was sexually assaulted as a child. Now she identifies as a lesbian. She alleges that “the university disciplined her for posting about LGBTQ+ issues on social media.”

Hunter says in the suit, “As someone figuring out their sexuality while at college, Bob Jones University’s policies on sexuality and marriage created a scary, harsh environment for me.”

Another student named in the case is Lucas Wilson, an alumni of Liberty University, which he attended because “he wanted to be straight and knew that Liberty had an anti-LGBTQ ‘conversion therapy’ program.” Of course, “conversion therapy” isn’t really a thing – there’s no form of therapy that anyone practices with that label; it’s just a term made up by activists who oppose help for those with unwanted homosexual behavior, identity or attractions.

Wilson said his “therapy” consisted of meeting with a Liberty administrator over four years and attending one group meeting with a student club called “Band of Brothers.” Neither of those qualifies as therapy from a licensed, experienced counselor.

REAP said it “empowers queer, trans and non-binary students at more than 200 taxpayer-funded religious colleges and universities that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.”

In addition to the lawsuit, REAP is working on a documentary, Exempt: On God’s Campus, which will focus on “the tension between civil liberties and religious freedom, the evolution of sexual and gender minority inclusion in the church, how the Christian education system works, and where activism meets legal action that impacts change in America.”

The group also has produced a report, “The LGBTQ+ Student Divide: The State of Sexual and Gender Minority Students at Taxpayer-Funded Christian Colleges.” The survey of  3,000 undergraduates, from 134 Christian colleges and universities, claims “that 12% of students identify as LGBTQ+, and nearly one-third (30%) of students at these Christian colleges and universities describe experiencing some amount of non-heterosexual attraction or experience.”

The report says that those students are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, bullying, suicidal thoughts, and harassment than other students at Christian schools.

REAP is sponsored by Soulforce, whose mission reads: “Soulforce sabotages Christian Supremacy through radical analysis, spiritual healing and strategic direct action.” The group is still working on a resource called, What is Christian Supremacy? In the meantime, Soulforce’s website explains, “Christian Supremacy is the connective tissue among different systems of violence and domination that use the language, capital, and power of Christianity to seek their ends.”

Those ends include “white supremacy, capitalism, and (neo)colonization – to name a few,” and “are intricately tied to how certain sectors and expressions of Christianity are driven by power over, not justice.” White supremacy, for the uninitiated, is not just a reference to the Ku Klux Klan or racist skinheads.

For critical race theorists, “white supremacy” or “white supremacy culture” includes all of Western Civilization and classic literature, American history, and all the societal systems and institutions that need to be overthrown, such as Christianity and the church, marriage and the family, the education system, science, business, politics, and law. CRT can be traced back to the 1930s and Critical Theory, which was rooted in Marxist revolutionary ideology.

The Washington Post said the lawsuit has been intentionally filed at this time to influence debate on the Equality Act, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to federal nondiscrimination laws. Along with other harms, the act would enshrine abortion into federal law; threaten privacy and safety in single-sex restrooms and locker rooms; threaten faith-based adoption centers and homeless shelters; and label Christian beliefs about sex and marriage “discriminatory.”

Christian institutions and believers should treat those struggling with homosexuality and transgender issues with kindness and grace. At the same time, we must hold to what Scripture and church teaching have always taught, even as we work in the public arena to preserve our freedoms of religion, speech and assembly.

We should remember that while Jesus commanded us to love others, He was very clear about marriage and sexuality, saying, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6 (ESV)

Related articles and resources:

Biblical Perspective on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage

Counseling for Sexual Identity Concerns: A Measured, Careful, and Compassionate Approach

Focus on the Family: Understanding Homosexuality

Focus on the Family: Transgender Resources

How Should We Respond? An exhortation to the church on loving homosexuals

What Does the Bible say about homosexuality? Answering revisionist gay theology

When a Loved One Says, “I’m Gay”: A guide for parents

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