Some three-dozen religious colleges – in Georgia, the Carolinas, Texas and mostly across the South – have asked for waivers from the federal government's Title IX protections so they can discriminate against LGBT students and employees.
The Column first reported on the 36 colleges in 17 states to either request or receive similar waivers in the last 18 months. Together, the 28 schools, based mostly in the South, have enrollment of more than 80,000 students and received nearly $130 million in federal research grants and student aid in 2014. Requests from eight schools are pending.
These “right-to-discriminate” waivers were relatively rare until the last year. A handful were requested in the 1980s and 1990s, many by religious schools who wanted to ensure they could prevent women from being hired in leadership roles without running afoul of discrimination laws.
That changed in 2014 when the Obama administration issued guidance that the Title IX discrimination prohibition “extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity,” meaning that entities receiving federal funding could not discriminate against transgender and gender nonconforming people.
In Georgia, Covenant College in Lookout Mountain asked for a waiver in May as the school's president, J. Derek Halvorson, expressed concerns that it wouldn't be able to follow its Statement on Sexual Identity& Conduct and discipline LGBT students. Halvorson also chaffed at federal guidelines concerning sexual violence prevention that “incorporates discrimination based on 'gender identity' as part of 'sex discrimination' under the statute.”
In his letter, Halvorson points out that “the act of homosexuality is a sin” and school policy mandates that “sexual immorality, adultery, homosexual practice, the adoption of a different sexual identity, and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman are inconsistent with the teaching of Scriptute and will result in disciplinary follow-up by the College.”
Covenant is a Presbyterian school, though the majority of schools requesting the waivers are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Three Baptist schools in South Carolinas — North Greenville University, Charleston Southern University and Anderson University — received waivers specifically to discriminate against LGBT students and employees, according to documents obtained by the Column in a federal Freedom of Information Act request.
Several Baptist schools, including North Greenville and Charleston Southern, used nearly identical waiver requests, according to the Column.
Belmont Abbey College, a Benedictine Catholic college near Charlotte, also requested and received a waiver, specifically asking that it be allowed to discriminate against transgender students, along with stressing its belief that homosexuality is sinful.
“We do not, therefore, support or affirm the resolution of tension between one’s biological sex and the experience of gender by the adoption of a psychological identity discordant with one’s birth sex, nor attempts to change one’s birth sex by surgical intervention, nor conduct or dress consistent with an identity other than one’s biological birth sex. [We do not affirm or support sexual relations of any kind outside of marriage between one man and one woman.] We will make institutional decisions in light of this policy regarding housing, student admission and retention, appropriate conduct, employment, hiring and retention, and other matters.”
Belmont Abbey’s request was also based on other similarly worded requests, emanating from sample text provided by the Christian Legal Society. The Column reports that the society has worked with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities to encourage schools to apply for the waivers.
A fifth school in the Carolinas also received a waiver. Southern Wesleyan University in Central received a waiver to discriminate specifically against transgender students.
In Texas, East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Howard Payne University in Brownwood and University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton received anti-LGBT waivers.
In Tennessee, Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City received a waiver though its president, Randall O'Brien, stumbled to articulate why. Union University in Jackson, Tenn., also received a waiver. In Alabama, Judson College in Marion and University of Mobile in Eight Mile received waivers.
After Birkey’s findings, the Charlotte-based Campus Pride responded by compiling the list of schools across the country into a new “Shame List.” The list is part of the non-profit’s new #LGBTQNotASin campaign, in conjunction with Faith in America.
“Religion-based bigotry is careless and life-threatening,” Shane Windmeyer, Campus Pride’s executive director, said in a release. “LGBTQ young people face high rates of harassment and violence, especially our trans youth and LGBTQ youth of color. The schools on this list have requested Title IX exemption based on religion-based bigotry targeting LGBQ and transgender people for no other purpose than to discriminate, expel and ban them from campus. It is shameful and wrong.”
Windmeyer also told the Column that schools receiving federal money should not be exempt from non-discrimination laws and other protections.
“If a college receives public funding, it should have to follow public laws,” he said. “The government would be perfectly within its rights to make taxpayer funded aid to these colleges contingent on compliance with generally applicable nondiscrimination laws.”
A version of this post first appeared on mattcomer.net, the blog of Charlotte-based LGBT journalist Matt Comer.