Rosenblum: end exemptions from religious schools

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and 18 other state attorneys general are seeking to scrap Trump-era measures that relaxed anti-discrimination rules for religious schools.

Three Oregon students are among the plaintiffs, and a private university in Salem is stepping in to defend the Trump rules.

Attorneys General filed a brief in Eugene U.S. District Court on Tuesday, writing that two changes to the Federal Title IX Act that were enacted in August and November 2020 were inconsistent with the intent of federal law aimed at preventing discrimination in schools.

Title IX is the federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in schools that receive federal funding or financial aid. There are some exemptions for religious schools, where many students receive federal financial aid, but attorneys general said the two rules made by the US Department of Education under former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos s ‘move too far away.

The first rule, promulgated in August 2020, allowed religious institutions to exempt themselves from Title IX without written notification to the Federal Office of Civil Rights. This effectively allowed religious schools to seek exemption from federal anti-discrimination laws at will and without registration, according to the brief.

The second rule, enacted last November, gave schools more leeway to claim they were controlled by a religious organization in order to exempt themselves from parts of anti-discrimination laws.

In the brief, the attorneys general wrote: “In combination, the rules harm students and make it more difficult to hold schools accountable for this harm.”

The brief that the attorneys general filed on Tuesday is called an amicus brief, and it serves as an intervention in a larger class action lawsuit called Hunter V. Department of Education.

In this case, 33 plaintiffs who attended evangelical colleges are suing the Ministry of Education for violating Title IX by allowing their schools to discriminate against them on the basis of sex. The plaintiffs want the religious exemptions in Title IX to be declared unconstitutional. This case was filed in the United States District Court in Eugene in March. The attorneys general’s new amicus case is an effort to influence the court’s decision to side with the plaintiffs.

Of those pursuing the U.S. Department of Education, two are current or former students of George Fox University, a private Christian college in Newberg that had around 2,500 undergraduate students as of 2020.

The school requested a religious exemption from Title IX so it would not be denied access to federal student aid as it prohibited one of the plaintiffs, a transgender man, from living in a dormitory for men.

In their complaint, the 33 complainants describe being bullied and harassed by peers and administrators for sharing their sexuality, and being forced to undergo conversion therapy in order to stay enrolled or receive course credits.

The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association strongly oppose conversion therapy and it is illegal for minors in Oregon and 19 other states as well as in the District of Columbia.

Three religious universities intervened to support the Department of Education in the case and enforce religious exemptions, including one in Oregon.

Corban University, a private Christian school in Salem, is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative rights group. Corban is not named in the federal lawsuit, but in a press release from the Alliance Defending Freedom they said the school wanted to intervene because it would be affected if the plaintiffs won.

David Cortman, senior lawyer for the advocacy group, said in a statement that “This lawsuit wants the federal government to tell Christian schools,” To continue accepting students who are receiving federal financial aid, whatever all you have to do is start acting contrary to your own beliefs. It is neither reasonable nor constitutional.

Corban was founded as the Phoenix Bible Institute in Arizona in 1953 before being transferred to Oakland, California, and then to Oregon in 1969 where it was called Western Baptist College. The school was officially named Corban University in 2005.

Corban had an undergraduate enrollment of around 900 students in the 2019-2020 school year. In its statutes, Corban requires faculty, staff, and students to abide by a standard of conduct that prohibits homosexuality.

THROUGHALEX BAUMHARDT, from the press partnerOregon Creative Chronicle 

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