A federal exemption that excuses some Christian schools from complying with certain Title IX gender provisions does not foster discrimination but protects religious freedom, supporters of the exemption told Baptist Press.
At least 30 Christian schools have received exemption from Title IX provisions requiring equal treatment based not only on biological gender, but also transgendered identity, records released by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) reveal. At least half of the affected schools are Southern Baptist and ruled by boards of trustees appointed by state Southern Baptist conventions.
Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn., is one of the latest Southern Baptist schools to receive the exemption.
“Yes, the spirit of the exemption is to conduct our school according to Christian tenets,” university president Randall O’Brien said. “Carson-Newman fully supports equal rights for all in society. We do not discriminate against our students or against any students applying to Carson-Newman. Carson-Newman also supports First Amendment rights for churches and religious schools, which grants these bodies religious freedom to follow their religious principles.”
The Southern Baptist schools have been granted exemption from stipulations regarding admission preferences, standards of personal behavior for students and employees, the use of restrooms and locker rooms, participation on athletic teams, counseling offered to students, financial assistance and recruitment practices, among other rules.
“An institution that is controlled by a religious organization is exempt from those sections of the Title IX regulations that are inconsistent with religious tenets of the organization,” reads a statement explaining the exemption on the DOE’s website. “An educational institution which wishes to claim the exemption may do so by submitting in writing to the Assistant Secretary a statement by the highest ranking official of the institution, identifying the religious organization that controls the educational institution and the provisions of this part which conflict with a specific tenet of the religious organization.”
Carson-Newman’s reasoning is in line with other Christian schools that have applied for and received the religious exemption.
“We applied for the exemption upon counsel of our attorney who recommended the same approach to 15 of his other Christian college clients, who also filed the template letter,” O’Brien said. “The purpose was to clearly identify each school as a Christian institution, thereby strengthening First Amendment standing.”
The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) Executive Board has passed a resolution on transgender issues designed to support Texas colleges seeking the exemption, currently granted to East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Howard Payne University in Brownwood, and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, all controlled by the BGCT. See related Baptist Press story.
Ferrell Foster, director of Ethics and Justice for the BGCT Christian Life Commission, told BP he believes applications for exemption were prompted by the DOE’s addition of transgender as a protected class in Title IX in 2014.
“The exemptions that some schools are now pursuing are primarily based on the transgender issue,” Foster said. “Making transgender a protected class creates practical challenges for any university, and those that believe gender is biologically determined are in a position of being asked to do something they fundamentally believe is a misunderstanding of gender.”
The exemptions, which grant the schools immunity from having to do such things as allow biologically identified boys to use girls’ locker rooms and restrooms, are not discriminatory against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community, Foster said.
“Those schools that pursue an exemption are merely saying that because of their foundational principles they do not wish to make accommodations for behavior they consider unethical and to the detriment of the learning experience,” Foster said. “In short, this issue is not about discrimination toward the LGBT community; this is about a desire to not make accommodations for a newly protected class of persons according to the Department of Education. Exemptions are being sought because to accommodate such practices is to be forced to violate biblical and ethical understandings of gender.”
The exemption allows schools to discourage sexual relations outside of marriage, adultery, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, abortion, gender identity not based on biology, pregnancy outside of wedlock and other behavior prohibited in scripture.
In granting the exemptions, the DOE said schools are still held to other Title IX regulations not specified in the exemptions, and are subject to compliance reviews.
Other Southern Baptist-supported schools that have received the exemption are Anderson University, Charleston Southern University, and North Greenville University, all affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention; Judson College and the University of Mobile, affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention; Louisiana College, affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention; Oklahoma Baptist University, affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma; Union University, affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention (as is Carson-Newman); the University of the Cumberlands, affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention; and Williams Baptist College, affiliated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was signed into law by former President Richard Nixon and was originally designed to protect the rights of women to participate in federally funded school activities. The main statement of the law, as published on the DOE website is, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Affected by Title IX are about 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 postsecondary institutions, and an unspecified number of charter and for-profit schools, libraries, museums, vocational rehabilitation agencies and the education agencies of 50 states, D.C., and U.S. territories and possessions, according to the DOE.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)