- A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education that sought to end Title IX exemptions for religious colleges that receive government funding.
- In 2021, roughly three dozen LGBTQ prospective, current and former students sued the Education Department, saying they had been discriminated against by religious colleges over their sexual orientations or gender identities. Title IX protects against sex discrimination at federally funded colleges, but allows exemptions for religious institutions with belief systems that conflict with the statute.
- But on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken of Oregon dismissed that case and said the students didn’t prove the exemption was created with the express intent of discriminating against the LBGTQ community.
In her ruling, Aiken noted the students had provided the court with roughly 400 exhibits to back up allegations of institutional discrimination, including denial of student housing, coerced conversion therapy, and expulsion. However, she wrote, they didn’t craft a strong enough legal argument to do away with religious exemptions.
Three religious colleges — Corban University, in Oregon, William Jessup University, in California, and Phoenix Seminary, in Arizona — intervened in the lawsuit to defend the exemptions. The colleges are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group.
Aiken threw out the case, calling the plaintiffs' arguments "confusing and contradictory."
To make a successful argument, the plaintiffs would have to show that federal lawmakers intended to discriminate against protected groups when they created the religious exemption, Aiken wrote. Instead, the plaintiffs argued that discrimination against sexual and gender minorities were “of no concern” to Congress at the time.
"Plaintiffs do not plausibly demonstrate that the religious exemption was motivated by any impermissible purpose — let alone that Congress was ‘wholly’ motivated by such an impermissible purpose,” she wrote.
The Alliance Defending Freedom applauded the decision on Thursday.
“A federal district court today rightly rejected an unfounded assault on the religious freedom of faith-based educational institutions,” David Cortman, senior counsel for the group, said in a statement. “Title IX, which applies to schools receiving federal financial assistance, explicitly protects the freedom of religious schools to live out their deeply and sincerely held convictions.”
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs and the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, an advocacy group representing them, told Reuters they are considering an appeal.
"It's frustrating that the Court has enough sense to know we've been hurt and impacted but still won't do anything to prevent this discrimination from continuing to happen," Rachel Held, one of the student plaintiffs, said in a statement obtained by Reuters.