In a 12-page court document filed on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said it can “vigorously” defend a policy that allows private, federally funded religious institutions the right to discriminate against LGBTQ students.
The document responds to a class-action lawsuit titled Hunter v. the U.S. Education Department that was initially filed in March by dozens of current and former LGBTQ students at religious colleges and universities. The suit says the government is at fault for providing taxpayer funds to discriminatory Christian schools and seeks to overturn a religious exemption for Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment in educational settings.
The Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), whose members include several of the schools named in the suit, filed a motion in May to intervene and join the case. The Justice Department’s new filing strikes down the request, stating that the CCCU and the department “share the same ‘ultimate objective’… namely, to uphold the Religious Exemption as it is currently applied.”
The statements in the court document contradict recent sentiment by the Biden administration that supports the LGBTQ community. Most recently, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he supports transgender athletes’ rights, telling ESPN he believes in local and state control, but the federal government has “a responsibility to protect the civil rights of students.”
“Our LGBTQ students have endured more harassment than most other groups,” Cardona told ESPN. “It’s critically important that we stand with them and give them opportunities to engage in what every other child can engage in without harassment.”
Last month, nearly 20 psychological associations penned a letter to the Education Department calling for an investigation into the allegations of harm against LGBTQ students detailed in the lawsuit.
Shirley Hoogstra, president of the CCCU, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that she is relieved the DOJ wants to “defend religious exemptions.”
Meanwhile, Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, told the Post that the move is detrimental for the LGBTQ community.
“What this means is that the government is now aligning itself with anti-LGBTQ hate to vigorously defend an exemption that everyone knows causes severe harm to LGBTQ students using taxpayer money,” he said. Southwick, a practicing attorney, is representing the students in the Hunter v. the U.S. Education Department case.
No one from the Biden administration has made a public statement on the lawsuit.