If you’re not paying attention to one of the Left’s most cunning and furtive assaults on religious liberty and religious identity, now is the time. As I wrote in National Review last December, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — the nation’s most influential gay-rights lobby — released a report titled “Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk.” In it, HRC requested that the Department of Education publicly list the names of every college in the United States receiving a Title IX non-discrimination exemption.
Last week, HRC announced that the Department of Education would comply with their request and publish “a list of educational institutions who have received an exemption from federal civil rights law in order to discriminate against LGBT students.” This wonky policy suggestion is purportedly intended to generate greater transparency, but the effects and motive behind it are far more chilling. With the Department of Education bowing to the agenda of activists, a new page has been turned in the Left’s zero-sum assault on religious liberty.
Waivers exist under Title IX that allow religious colleges to seek exemptions from some federal non-discrimination statutes. This isn’t about allowing religious schools to discriminate against women or bar minorities from admittance. That type of discrimination is “invidious” — and prohibited. Rather, these waivers allow Christian colleges the ability to enforce long-held Christian moral expectations about sex, marriage, and gender as a condition of admittance and attendance. Like any association with an expectation about belief and conduct, Christian colleges admit students on the basis and expectation of Christian kids promising to abide by Christian morality. The Human Rights Campaign, however, views any attempt by Christian colleges to live out their Christian ethics as inherently discriminatory because most Christian colleges, shockingly, dare to uphold the 2,000-year-old teaching that homosexuality is sinful and that gender is biologically determined, not socially constructed.
Colleges — Christian colleges in particular — have sought these legal waivers in anticipation of the day when the federal government makes tax exemption and funding dependent upon a school’s complying with non-discrimination statutes that include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
These waivers are essential if Christian colleges are to have the ability to exist as authentically Christian institutions in a post-Obergefell world.
These colleges’ fears aren’t unfounded. Christian colleges have begun seeking these exemptions in light of the Obama Department of Education’s disturbing pattern of reinterpreting Title IX to include sexual orientation and gender identity under the category of “sex discrimination,” which Title IX specifically prohibits. Keep in mind that the Department of Education has reached its new interpretation without authorization from Congress. In the eyes of HRC and other LGBT activists, any school receiving a Title IX exemption because of a belief about marriage, gender, and sexuality is engaged in an invidious act of discrimination. These waivers are essential if Christian colleges are to have the ability to exist as authentically Christian institutions in a post-Obergefell world.
While HRC is powerless to see any school punished for requesting such a waiver, the intended result on their part is clear: They’re sending a very clear signal that any school dissenting from LGBT orthodoxy should have the spotlight put on them. Some activists evidently hope to bring about an endgame where tax-exemption status can be used as a weapon to exclude these schools and students from receiving any federal grant or funding mechanism that would allow their programs (or even their existence) to continue.
HRC is engaged in an intimidation campaign aiming to see Christian schools targeted for their Christian beliefs. Since Christian schools exist in part to inculcate in their students a Christian vision for sexuality, it isn’t hyperbole to suggest that the Human Rights Campaign wishes for these schools to revise their Christian doctrine or, in the long run, be shut down because of crippling financial difficulties.
These actions violate the very foundations of religious liberty and principled pluralism: The Left’s commitment to totalizing ideologies is on full display with these actions. Without a commitment in principle to religious liberty, liberty is distributed according to the arbitrary whims of majoritarians and revolutionaries. A principled approach to religious liberty in this instance would protect Christian colleges that are simply holding fast to doctrine that predates the Constitution itself — doctrine that aided civil society’s need for sexual mores. The Christian sexual ethic is inextricably tied to the well-being of society by teaching that men and women ought to be chaste until marriage; and that being married means staying married. Christian colleges are merely asking for the ability to continue to be true to that teaching.
But the stakes are high for more than just Christian education: Soon, any religion that upholds the primacy of heterosexuality as the norm for human sexuality, will find itself increasingly boxed out of the public square. Tragically, the prospect of either a Clinton or a Trump presidency simply exacerbates these problems.
Let’s dispel the myth that LGBT students are being discriminated against: LBGT students aren’t under any threat of being denied access to education, let alone at Christian schools. All that Christian schools ask is that if a student — heterosexual or homosexual — voluntarily applies to a school that has expectations for how sexuality is to be channeled, it expects these students live up to these expectations. No student is being forced to apply to Christian colleges that uphold these expectations. Nevertheless, the Human Rights Campaign wants Christians schools to lay down their Christianity on the altar of sexual freedom.
All of this points to the need to find a resolution to protect dissenters from the sexual revolution’s growing power. The First Amendment Defense Act offers such a remedy by prohibiting the government from discriminating against a college on the basis of its sincerely held belief about marriage.
Christian college administrators, be on notice: The future of Christian higher education is going to require both the will and the fight to protect institutions that are simply trying to be true to their mission and identity.