Title IX lawsuit filed in Oregon pits Biden’s Justice Department against LGBTQ allies | state

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The Justice Department, in a recent court case, said it could “vigorously” defend a religious exemption from federal civil rights law that allows federally funded religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students. The case concerns an ongoing lawsuit in which dozens of these students accuse conservative religious universities and colleges of discrimination and prejudice.

Some LGBTQ advocates were disturbed by the filing, which took place in US District Court in Oregon on Tuesday, asserting that its wording went further than necessary, beyond a simple obligation to defend an existing law. They want the administration to agree with them that it is unconstitutional for federally funded schools to discriminate against LGBTQ people and that the exemption is untenable.

“What this means is that the government is now aligning itself with anti-LGBTQ hate to vigorously defend an exemption that everyone knows is causing serious harm to LGBTQ students by using taxpayer dollars “, Paul Carlos Southwick, director of religious exemption based in Portland. Accountability Project, which filed the case in March on behalf of dozens of current and past students at conservative religious colleges and universities, said Tuesday. “It will make our case more difficult if the federal government plans to vigorously defend it as it has indicated.”

For others, including supporters of President Joe Biden, the administration had no other choice, as the federal education civil rights law – called Title IX – exempts religion. They noted the purpose of the ministry’s filing, which was to prevent conservative religious groups from becoming parties to the lawsuit, arguing that the agency can defend the exemption on its own.

However, as a possible sign of pressure on the administration, the Justice Department amended the document on Wednesday, removing the word “vigorously” to describe its defense of religious exemption and retaining multiple uses of the word “adequate.” “. He removed language that the education ministry and Christian schools “share the same ‘ultimate goal’ … namely, to uphold the religious exemption as currently applied.”

In a Wednesday article titled “No, the Biden administration is not betraying its support for LGBTQ rights,” Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern said the Justice Department “was trying to prevent a Christian organization from … Make extreme arguments “. Stern said the religious exemption in Title IX is not “patently, unduly unconstitutional” and therefore the administration has no choice but to defend it.

No matter the change in the formulation, the legal issues at the heart of the trial remain the same. In Hunter v. The US Department of Education, 40 LGBTQ students at conservative religious colleges and universities are suing the government for its role in funding schools with discriminatory policies. Schools say they have the First Amendment right to promote traditional religious beliefs about sexuality and gender. Southwick, the lead lawyer in the Hunter lawsuit, is a graduate of George Fox University, according to a report from the Portland Tribune. GFU is a private Christian university with several campuses in Oregon.

“Complainants 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 intervention, persists with damaging consequences. for spirit, body and soul, ”we read in the March trial. “The department’s inaction leaves students unprotected from the harms of conversion therapy, eviction, denial of housing and health care, sexual and physical abuse and harassment, as well as the less visible consequences,” but no less damaging, institutionalized shame, fear, anxiety and loneliness. “

Billions of federal money for things like scholarships and grants flow through the US Department of Education.

But the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, whose members include many of the named schools, said in a May motion that the Biden administration could not be trusted to adequately defend the schools’ beliefs, and ” may be openly hostile to them “. His request was to intervene and be part of the case.

The Justice and Education departments declined to comment last week. However, in a March blog post, Suzanne Goldberg, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, wrote to acknowledge that LGBTQ students suffer from discrimination, harassment and violence.

“It also underlines our responsibility to ensure that educational institutions provide appropriate support to students who have been victims of gender discrimination; and to ensure that their school procedures are fair and equitable for all, ”Goldberg wrote.

The Biden administration’s thinking on the issue that is at the center of several major recent Supreme Court cases: the tensions between religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws was not immediately clear. Biden is also pushing for the passage of the Equality Act, a sweeping measure that would add gender identity and sexuality to groups protected by the Civil Rights Act, while significantly weakening exemptions. for religious groups and individuals.

The record stated in a note that “of course the federal defendants have yet to file any pleadings or petitions outlining their legal position in this case.”

In addition, the Department of Justice is supposed to defend federal laws.

The amended record on Wednesday also said the Education Ministry was under “a thorough review of its regulations … until this process is complete, it would be premature to conclude that the government is an inadequate representative.” .

The country is debating legal rights regarding religion, sex, sexuality and gender identity, and the Biden administration has come forward as a steadfast ally for full equality.

A March letter from the civil rights division of the Department of Justice says the administration believes Title IX (the civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded education) provides that “no person in the United States should, on the basis of gender, be excluded. participate in, be denied benefits, or be discriminated against in any federally funded educational program or activity.

Shirley Hoogstra, chair of the board of Christian colleges, said Tuesday that while she was relieved to see the administration say they wanted to defend religious exemptions, Christian schools affected by the case should have a representative at the table.

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