Belmont Abbey College is among four Carolinas-area religious colleges receiving waivers from the federal government’s Title IX protections in order to discriminate against LGBT students and employees.
The Column’s Andy Birkey first reported on the colleges, each among more than two dozen colleges nationally to have either requested or received similar waivers. Together, the 27 schools, based mostly in the South, have enrollment of over 80,000 students and received nearly $130 million in federal research grants and student aid in 2014.
The majority of schools requesting the waivers are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Two Baptist schools in the Carolinas — North Greenville University and Charleston Southern University — each received waivers specifically to discriminate against LGBT students and employees, according to documents obtained by Birkey in a federal Freedom of Information Act request. The two school’s waiver requests are nearly identical. Birkey reports that other Baptist schools also used similarly worded requests.
Belmont Abbey College, a Benedictine Catholic college near Charlotte, also requested and received a waiver, specifically asking that it be allowed to discriminate against transgender students, along with stressing its belief that homosexuality is sinful.
Reads the college’s waiver request: “We do not, therefore, support or affirm the resolution of tension between one’s biological sex and the experience of gender by the adoption of a psychological identity discordant with one’s birth sex, nor attempts to change one’s birth sex by surgical intervention, nor conduct or dress consistent with an identity other than one’s biological birth sex. [We do not affirm or support sexual relations of any kind outside of marriage between one man and one woman.] We will make institutional decisions in light of this policy regarding housing, student admission and retention, appropriate conduct, employment, hiring and retention, and other matters.”
Belmont Abbey’s request was also based on other similarly worded requests, emanating from sample text provided by the Christian Legal Society. Birkey reports that the society has worked with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities to encourage schools to apply for the waivers.
It’s not the first time Belmont Abbey has sought exemption from government rules and regulations. The school made waves after the passage of the Affordable Health Act when it filed suit against requirements that employers provide free contraceptives in their health insurance plans. The later Hobby Lobby case, decided by the Supreme Court in 2014, affirmed private institutions’ rights to decline such coverage.
A fourth school in the Carolinas also received a waiver. Southern Wesleyan University received a waiver to discriminate specifically against transgender students.
Together, the four Carolinas schools have received $15,943,547 in federal funding since 2014.
After Birkey’s findings, the Charlotte-based Campus Pride responded by compiling the list of 27 schools across the country into a new “Shame List.” The list is part of the non-profit’s new #LGBTQNotASin campaign, in conjunction with Faith in America.
“Religion-based bigotry is careless and life-threatening,” Shane Windmeyer, Campus Pride’s executive director, said in a release. “LGBTQ young people face high rates of harassment and violence, especially our trans youth and LGBTQ youth of color. The schools on this list have requested Title IX exemption based on religion-based bigotry targeting LGBQ and transgender people for no other purpose than to discriminate, expel and ban them from campus. It is shameful and wrong.”
Windmeyer also told Birkey that school’s receiving federal money should not be exempt from non-discrimination laws and other protections.
“If a college receives public funding, it should have to follow public laws,” he said. “The government would be perfectly within its rights to make taxpayer funded aid to these colleges contingent on compliance with generally applicable nondiscrimination laws.”
Similar debates once surrounded Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. It had once attempted to bar students of color. As a result, the government threatened to pull their tax-exempt status when regulations changed to prohibit tax-exempt statuses for schools with racial segregation policies. The school filed suit, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the IRS. Bob Jones began receiving federal funding in 2006. The school continues to have harsh anti-LGBT policies for students and employees. [Note (Dec. 3, 2015, 9:14 a.m.) — I’ve updated this paragraph to correct some background information. The controversy over Bob Jones’ racist policies centered on its tax-exempt status, not federal funding. Thanks to reader and commenter Camille Lewis for the correction.]
But recent “religious freedom” debates surrounding LGBT discrimination have taken a different tone, with a slew of states passing so called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” or other similar bills aimed at exempting both businesses and government officials and agencies from recognizing same-gender marriage or otherwise discriminating against LGBT people.
Similar legislation was filed and passed in North Carolina this year to exempt magistrates and registers of deeds from recognizing or performing same-gender marriages. It’s one of several pieces of legislation that have already been legally challenged or might be challenged. The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board recently called the bill and others “wrong headed” and said resulting legal costs of some $8 million is “wasteful spending.”