LGBTQ activists react to Justice Department’s defense of Title IX religious exemption
LGBTQ advocates criticize the Justice Department for a court case in which the DOJ wrote it would “vigorously” defend a religious exemption that allows federally-funded religious colleges and universities to discriminate against minorities.
The Department of Justice also said, with respect to the Hunter case against the United States Department of Education, that the Department of Education and Christian schools “share the same ‘end goal’ … of upholding the ‘religious exemption as currently applied’.
The wording has since been changed in court documents. The Justice Department is responsible for defending federal laws in court, and the record now indicates that it will “adequately” defend the case.
LGBTQ activists have said that the language initially used implied that the DOJ tolerated and supported discrimination against LGBTQ students, which runs counter to past statements by President Joe Biden about protecting this community.
“There is a difference between doing their job in a professional and appropriate manner … and expressing it as an enthusiastic commitment to achieving a particular result,” said Jennifer Pizer, legal and policy director of Lambda Legal, a legal organization that focuses on LGBTQ Rights.
She said there was a misunderstanding about what it means to provide equal justice under the law for LGBTQ people, saying the foundations of religious freedom should not encourage or allow discrimination against marginalized people.
“It is not a religious freedom to hurt others,” she added. “The legal question is how to find the right relationship between the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs and where that freedom ends when it starts harming other people, creating inequalities for other people. “
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, an LGBTQ rights group, said the DOJ’s language was not of concern.
Instead, he said he was focusing on the damaging effects of discrimination against students and the positive efforts by some religious schools to be more inclusive.
“It’s an educational process for these schools to understand the impact of their policies,” Minter said. “They have to learn this, and they have to hear it directly from the students, but it is very painful – the harm that is done to the students in some of these schools is really deep.”
He said it was time for these schools to tackle discriminatory policies within their systems – and he said many of these schools are moving in the right direction.
“It is actually one of the most important social developments of our time,” said Minter. “This is part of a larger process where conservative faith communities really have to face the reality that they have LGBTQ children and youth among them.”
The Justice Department declined ABC News’ request to comment on the case or the trial.
In Hunter v. US Department of Education, which was filed in March, 40 LGBTQ students sued the government for funding conservative religious education institutions with discriminatory policies.
The students’ argument reads: “The plaintiffs seek security and justice for themselves and for the countless students of sexual and gender minorities whose oppression, fueled by government funding and not restrained by government funding. government intervention persists with detrimental consequences for the mind, body and soul. “
The lawsuit also claims that students may be subject to conversion therapy, expulsion, harassment and misconduct, as well as denial of housing and health care from institutions claiming a protection under religious exemption claims.
Title IX, invoked in this case, prohibits students from any discrimination based on sex.
However, the civil rights law states that religious institutions, even if they accept federal funding, do not have to comply with the law if it “would be incompatible with the religious principles of the organization,” according to the bureau. civil rights rights on the DOE website.
The Council of Christian Colleges and Universities represents many of the schools listed as defendants in the lawsuit. In a court case, the organization said the religious exemption “has proven to be essential because contemporary notions of sexuality and gender diverge, often substantially, from the religious beliefs that drive all aspects of life. Christian on campus “.
Schools involved in the lawsuit claim it is their First Amendment right to promote traditional religious beliefs about sexuality and gender, even if this is perceived by students as discriminatory.
Although the Justice Department is compelled to defend the Education Department, activists have said they hope the case can lead to a wider conversation about the impact of discrimination on students and the progress being made. by certain religious institutions to modify or eliminate codes of good conduct.
The backlash comes as the equality law makes its way through Congress. President Joe Biden openly applauded the bill, which would ban discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Full equality has been denied to LGBTQ + Americans and their families for far too long,” Biden said in a February statement just before the House passed the bill. “Despite the extraordinary progress the LGBTQ + community has made in securing their basic civil rights, discrimination is still endemic in many areas of our society.”
The equality law is now awaiting its turn in the Senate.