Washington Post, Dozens of LGBTQ Students at Christian Colleges Sue the U.S. Education Dept., Hoping to Pressure Equality Act Negotiations:
Elizabeth Hunter says she became suicidal after Bob Jones University administrators grilled the former student about her sexuality for tweeting “happy Pride” and writing a book with lesbian characters. She was fined, sent to anti-gay counseling and removed from her job at the campus TV station. Veronica Penales says she’s told officials at Baylor University, where she is a sophomore, that people leave anti-gay notes on her door, but they don’t investigate. Lucas Wilson said he graduated from Liberty University with “a profound sense of shame” after being encouraged to go to conversion therapy.
The three are among 33 current and past students at federally funded Christian colleges and universities cited in a federal lawsuit filed Monday against the U.S. Department of Education. The suit says the religious exemption the schools are given that allow them to have discriminatory policies is unconstitutional because they receive government funding. The class-action suit, filed by the nonprofit Religious Exemption Accountability Project, references 25 schools across the country.
“The Plaintiffs seek safety and justice for themselves and for the countless sexual and gender minority students whose oppression, fueled by government funding, and unrestrained by government intervention, persists with injurious consequences to mind, body and soul,” reads the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon. “The Department’s inaction leaves students unprotected from the harms of conversion therapy, expulsion, denial of housing and healthcare, sexual and physical abuse and harassment, as well as the less visible, but no less damaging, consequences of institutionalized shame, fear, anxiety and loneliness.”
The suit — intentionally — comes at a sensitive time. The U.S. House recently passed the Equality Act, a sweeping measure that would add gender identity and sexuality to the groups protected under the Civil Rights Act, while significantly weakening exemptions for religious groups and people. While President Biden says he will sign the bill as it is, the Equality Act awaits a vote in the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle.
Religious organizations seeking a compromise measure that would include religious exemptions have been meeting for weeks with gay rights and civil rights groups. The prospect of carve-outs for the hundreds of schools with policies barring LGBTQ behavior or advocacy led to the suit, said Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project.
David French (The Dispatch), The Walls Are Strong, but the Cannon Fire Is Real: Religious Liberty and Free Speech Aren’t Fragile, but They’re Still Under Attack:
[L]et’s turn to a brand new lawsuit filed by 33 current and former LGBT students at Christian educational institutions against the Department of Education, seeking to strip the religious exemption from Title IX (which prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded educational programs) and thus require religious educational institutions end religious prohibitions on LGBT conduct or lose federal funding.
The plaintiffs filed their case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division (I smell forum shopping), but even if the plaintiffs pull the most favorable trial court judge, their case has no real chance of success. Existing precedent is resolutely against the plaintiffs, and it is overwhelmingly likely that their case will simply result in yet another decision strengthening the citadel of freedom.
At the same time, the intent of the case and the underlying arguments are troubling. No one required the student-plaintiffs to attend religious colleges. Our nation does not lack for institutions of higher education that enthusiastically affirm LGBT rights. Why seek to punish the few institutions that dissent from academic political and religious orthodoxy?
In short, while it’s easy to identify when conservatives are exaggerating the threat of any given lawsuit or the true peril to the existence of their institutions, it’s still true that parts of the left are firing legal cannonballs at the citadel, and the fact that the citadel’s walls are strong doesn’t render the cannon fire any less aggressive.