The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon ruled in favor of faith-based colleges and dismissed the lawsuit brought by current and former LGBTQ students who argued that Title IX, the civil rights statute that prevents discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, allows religious schools to discriminate against them.
In Elizabeth Hunter, et al. v. U.S. Department of Education, et al. and Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, et al, the class action lawsuit was brought by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP). According to its website, REAP “empowers queer, trans and non-binary students at more than 200 taxpayer-funded religious schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” REAP’s lawsuit challenged the Title IX exemption for religious colleges and was filed to “end the sexual, physical and psychological abuses perpetrated under the religious exemption to Title IX at thousands of federally-funded schools, colleges, and universities across America.”
The 44 plaintiffs either applied to, attended, or currently attend religious colleges and universities. The plaintiffs “allege that their schools have discriminated against them by, among other things, subjecting them to discipline (including expulsion), rejecting their applications for admission, and rescinding their admissions because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
United States District Court Judge Ann Aiken ruled against REAP and dismissed the suit. In her decision, Judge Aiken said that the plaintiffs did not have the necessary elements to state a legal claim. The court wrote, “Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that Defendants caused Plaintiffs’ injuries by implementing a system that permits religiously affiliated schools to use religious exemptions to deny federally-funded educational services to current and prospective students.”
Judge Aiken further wrote, “Thus, an order requiring the rescinding of all prior religious exemptions to Title IX as applied to sexual and gender minority students; mandating that Defendants treat Title IX complaints from sexual and gender minority students at all taxpayer-funded religious colleges in the same manner as complaints at nonreligious colleges; and requiring Defendants to ensure that all federally-funded educational institutions respect the sexual orientation and gender identity of Plaintiffs would make Plaintiffs whole. Accordingly, no speculative inferences are necessary here to conclude that the relief requested will result in the Plaintiffs receiving the dignity and equal treatment they seek. Plaintiffs’ FAC satisfies standing requirements with respect to their claim for Equal Protection. Amendment by the proposed SAC and supplemental briefs would not be futile.”
“Here, Plaintiffs have provided voluminous allegations going toward the element of disparate impact—the first hurdle to mounting an equal protection claim. However, Plaintiffs have submitted no allegations of discriminatory motivation on the part of those enacting the religious exemption. To the contrary, Plaintiffs argue that when Congress enacted Title IX, protections for—or discrimination against sexual and gender minorities—were ‘of no concern.’ Plaintiffs provide no evidence and supply no allegations involving the above-listed factors for the Court to consider and evaluate whether Congress was motivated in part by a discriminatory purpose when it enacted the religious exemption.”
Judge Aiken also referred to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 when she wrote: “The text of RFRA is clear that government granting exemptions does not constitute a violation, unless impermissible under Establishment Clause principles Plaintiffs also fail to allege facts to demonstrate that it is Defendants—the government actor— that has burdened Plaintiffs religious beliefs.”
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This case is a victory for religious freedom. Title IX protects the freedom of religious colleges and universities to follow their sincerely held convictions. If students don’t agree with a faith-based school’s mission, it is probably not the right school for them.”