Religious Freedom for Christian Colleges: A Victory in Federal Court
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by the LGBTQ-sponsored “Religious Exemption Accountability Project” (REAP) asserting that “young and vulnerable” LGBTQ+ persons are “at the mercy of religiously affiliated, taxpayer-funded social service and educational institutions that often turn them away or force them into the closet.”
The students who litigated against the U.S. Department of Education and the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) wanted to overturn “a provision of Title IX that allows religious colleges to seek exemptions” from a law barring “sex-based discrimination.” Title IX is part of a 1972 measure and states, “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.”
However, there is a federal statute stating that Title IX “does not apply to an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization to the extent that application of Title IX would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization.” In other words, if a school believes that sexual intimacy is reserved for one man and one woman in the covenantal bond of marriage, and thereby adhering to 3,500 years of Judeo-Christian teaching, it can receive federal resources without penalty.
So, in October 2021, “the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon allowed three Christian post-secondary schools represented by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys — Corban University, William Jessup University, and Phoenix Seminary — to intervene in the lawsuit and defend the relevant provisions of Title IX, the federal law under attack.”
The judge who issued the ruling, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken, was appointed to the federal court by Bill Clinton. “Exempting religiously controlled educational institutions from Title IX,” she wrote in her decision, “is substantially related to the government’s objective of accommodating religious exercise.”
The judge also “rejected (REAP’s) argument that the exemption ran afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion by Congress, saying they failed to show how the federal government, in contrast to the schools, advanced religion.”
Throughout the country — in workplaces, businesses, and other venues — LGBTQ-identifying persons can be subject to verbal cruelty and personal harassment. These are affronts to the God-given dignity enjoyed by every image-bearer of our Creator. Followers of Jesus should not only oppose them but defend those attacked when able.
With that said, I cannot help but wonder why the students who filed the lawsuit attend Christian colleges and universities whose faith commitments state clearly what they believe about human sexuality. Did they apply to and enter these schools under false pretenses — affirming the institutions’ doctrinal standards while intending to fight them once enrolled? Or upon attending, did they decide they were LGBTQ and choose to remain in order to overturn the schools’ commitments to biblical teaching?
Perhaps they felt they have a strong precedent for such initiatives as the REAP lawsuit. This past fall, the Christian Reformed Church, even though affirming the Bible’s teaching about men, women, and sex, decided to let the faculty at its flagship college, Calvin University, “dissent from a clause in (the CRC) confession of faith that regards sex outside of heterosexual marriage as sinful, enabling them to continue to work at the Christian school while also respecting their convictions.”
In other words, a college founded to uphold scriptural standards allows professors who disdain some of those standards to teach and, thereby, influence the young people who attend the institution. This is like saying that although my car uses diesel fuel I’m going to fill it up with low-octane gas. Hey, I’m filling it up, right? Why judge me for my tolerance of and even compassionate sympathy for diverse fuel types?
Similarly, some churches have abandoned the Bible’s clear teaching about human sexuality after intense and unrelenting pressure from LGBT-identifying activists and their allies. Even though the worldwide Methodist communion uniformly opposes any sexual intimacy outside of traditional marriage, American Methodist advocates of complete sexual autonomy have insisted on violating their church’s stated beliefs and are now dividing the United Methodist Church.
With precedents like these, it is understandable that the insistent and relentless demands of LGBTQ activists and their supporters would try to erode those institutions retaining fidelity to “the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:2).
Anyone who agrees with a school’s doctrinal statement or at least agrees to abide by its standards is welcome at a Christian college or university, depending on the individual institution’s rules. Yet no one is compelled to remain at a school whose standards are repellent to him or her. To do so speaks of a lack of moral courage and personal dishonesty as well, perhaps, of a certain desperation for affirmation that the student himself or herself does not possess within.
My heart goes out to those wrestling with issues of sexual identity. But this court case hasn’t been about any student’s view of his or her sexuality. It’s about standing for the truth of the Word of God and allowing those who follow it to do so without penalty. Continuing to stand without compromise is one of the great and ongoing challenges for the believing church today. May we be found faithful.
Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.