Religiously affiliated schools scored a major legal victory last week when a judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by current and former students who are challenging federal LGBTQ rights policies and defended the faith-based exemptions at the center of the case.
The students, who are connected to a range of religious institutions, including BYU, had argued that schools should lose access to federal education funds if they violate LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. As it stands, faith-based schools are able to receive exemptions under Title IX that protect them when their religious beliefs come into conflict with the policy’s nondiscrimination requirements.
In her ruling, Judge Ann Aiken, a federal district court judge in Oregon, expressed sympathy for students who feel mistreated on religious campuses, but said that Title IX’s religious exemptions were not crafted with the intent to harm the LGBTQ community.
Aiken “cited previous federal court rulings that religious exemptions are constitutional and rejected the idea that such exemptions are motivated by an intent to discriminate,” Religion News Service reported.
The ruling represents a big win for the Department of Education and the religious schools that had joined the lawsuit to defend their LGBTQ rights policies.
“Judge Aiken’s decision based on strong legal precedent reaffirms the constitutional rights of our institutions to live out their deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs, both in policy and in practice,” said Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, in a statement to Christianity Today.
In her own statement, Elizabeth Hunter, one of the 44 students who brought the lawsuit, argued that federal education policy needs to change.
“We deserve better, our country deserves better and history deserves better. The silence and erasure of LGBTQ+ students should not be a precedent,” she said in a statement to Religion News Service.
Hunter and the other students are reportedly still considering their options and could choose to appeal Aiken’s ruling. They may also decide to file separate lawsuits against their current or former schools, said Nick Miller, an attorney who represents the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, in an interview with Christianity Today.
“We view this as the victory of a battle — an important one — but the overall conflict will continue,” he said.