Politics & Policy

How the Education Department Shames Religious Schools — and How It can Stop

(Dreamstime image: Balazs Toth)
What purpose is served by its public listing of institutions that receive Title IX exemptions?

If you visit the website of the U.S. Department of Education, you can come across what appears to be a mundane example of bureaucratic legalese: a portal to a list of all schools that have sought and received a Title IX religious exemption.

But first, a brief explanation: Title IX allows a religious school to be exempt from government policies that would undermine its religious identity. The need for exemptions has traditionally been rare. That’s now changed, as the Education Department has interpreted “sex discrimination” to involve the category of gender identity. Without an exemption, Christians schools would be required, for example, to permit a biological male who identifies as female to live in dorms with other females.

Why is something as innocent as a government database that lists colleges worth writing about? Because this supposed act of “transparency” (as it was called at the time) was designed to publicly “out” the schools whose religious convictions include the teaching that marriage is based on the complementarity of the sexes and that male and female are biological identity markers, not “gender identities” that exist only in the mind.

The public database is the result of lobbying efforts meant to shame institutions that refuse to comply with progressive viewpoints on sexual orientation and gender.

The nation’s largest gay-rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, pushed the effort for the Education Department to list the schools that, in the HRC’s words, “received a license to discriminate” against LGBT students. In a document titled “Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk,” the Human Rights Campaign put forth three policy recommendations, calling on

‐the Education Department to require schools to publish comprehensive information about the scope of the exemption they received and the way Title IX still protects students;

‐the Education Department to regularly report which educational institutions have been granted Title IX religious exemptions and the scope of those exemptions, and to ensure that the information is provided on the individual schools’ landing page at the website College Navigator; and

‐Congress to amend the governing statue of the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), to require OCR to report annually the number of Title IX exemptions that were requested, granted, and denied.

The report is the equivalent of the Human Rights Campaign staring down religious schools and saying, “Gee, that’s a nice religious school you got there; it’d be a shame if something happened to it.” Though the Human Rights Campaign is powerless to prevent schools from receiving these exemptions, the apparent purpose of its report was to send an intimidating chill down the spine of religious higher-education institutions. As the Education Department complied with its request, the partnership to harass religious schools was solidified.

In late April, under the guidance of an Obama-led Education Department that spuriously redefined “sex discrimination” without congressional approval, recommendations for public disclosure were enacted, and hence today’s database, in which institutions that receive exemptions are listed, as if in a police lineup.

It’s time to reverse the trend of undermining religious liberty and shaming institutions for adhering to millennia-old teachings in goodwill and on reasonable grounds. It’s time for this database and portal to be taken down.

As the Trump administration enters office in one month, religious conservatives are looking for proof that President-elect Trump’s promises to protect religious liberty was worth their vote.

#related#There are many ways that a Trump administration can bolster religious liberty on Day One. One would be for incoming education secretary Betsy DeVos to remove the government database from public view if the sole purpose behind it was to create a hall of shame. That simple change would signal that traditional viewpoints on sexuality and gender are neither offensive nor noteworthy.

This database is a small but significant piece of the sexual revolution’s mosaic. To remove it would be a symbolic gesture that would reduce the stigma that many colleges endure for simply acting on deeply held convictions. It would be a repudiation of efforts to classify as bigotry reasonable beliefs about sexuality and gender. Removing the database would be a small step not only for religious liberty but for religious tolerance and pluralism.

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