On Monday, 33 past and present students at Christian colleges across the U.S. filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education. The lawsuit says their schools’ religious exemptions permit on-campus discrimination against LGBT students and should no longer be eligible for federal funds. The lawsuit was filed by a nonprofit called the Religious Exemption Accountability Project and name checked 25 different colleges.
“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. “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 lawsuit comes on the heels of House passing the Equality Act, which brings gender and sexuality under the protections offered by the Civil Rights Act. The Senate has yet to pass the Equality Act and may not get the necessary votes, but regardless, many Christian colleges have anticipated this fight for a long time. Religious organizations have been pushing for a compromise on the Equality Act that would allow for a series of religious exemptions but director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project Paul Carlos Southwick says he intends to stand firm.
“Many mainstream LGBTQ groups aren’t committed to fighting,” he told the Washington Post. “We want to say: ‘Don’t negotiate us away.’ Don’t bargain away these students, who are really being damaged with taxpayer money,” Southwick said. “I’m worried they will be cut out of the Equality Act protection through negotiations.”
The lawsuit names high profile Christian colleges like Baylor, Liberty, Bob Jones, Azusa Pacific and Moody Bible Institute, and estimates that about one-third of the nation’s approximately 600 four-year, degree-granting nonprofit Christian colleges in the U.S. have policies that are explicitly against LGBT students in their rules. The suit argues that such rules violate the Constitution’s equal protection clauses and the Establishment Clause.
Where things go from here isn’t totally clear, but the implications could potentially be enormous. You can read the lawsuit in its entirety here.