Title IX exemptions

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: good news for Christian higher education.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Last month, The New York Times reported on a leaked memo from the Trump administration. It detailed proposed changes to the way the government handles Title IX enforcement.

One provision caused a stir among transgender activists. It would have defined gender based on biology, not gender identity. The report sparked a firestorm in the media. And the administration backtracked.

REICHARD: But that controversy overshadowed another major change to Title IX enforcement proposed by the Education Department. It would change the way Christian colleges apply for exemptions to Title IX and the way the government advertises those requests.

WORLD Radio’s Kyle Zimnick has our story.

KYLE ZIEMNICK, REPORTER: They call it the shame list. A registry of Christian colleges and universities that adhere to a Biblical definition of gender and sexuality.

The origins of the list date back to 1972. That’s when Congress passed Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. Title IX required colleges that received federal funding to treat men and women equally, especially in athletic program funding. Christian colleges had no problem following its rules.

But in 2014, the Obama administration drastically changed the way Title IX defined the term “sex,” expanding the word to include “gender identity.” That enabled men who identified as women to file complaints against schools for treating them as men. Christian colleges couldn’t live with that.

Here’s John Jackson. He’s the president of William Jessup University in northern California.

JACKSON: You know, we have standards within our community covenant about marriage, about sexuality, about gender… We are unequivocally, clearly committed to Biblical authority.  And because of that, we were not willing to have the federal or state redefinitions of gender and sexuality overrule our Biblical convictions. 

Those convictions led 74 schools to apply for exemptions to Title IX. Each college sent a letter to the government explaining its religious beliefs. Although they got their exemptions, that wasn’t the end of the story.

In 2016, transgender activist groups asked the government to publish a list of colleges with exemptions. They said it would help prevent transgender students from unwittingly attending a school that didn’t embrace their gender dysphoria. The Department of Education agreed. The new so-called “shame list” gave activist groups ammunition to use against the Christian schools.

Dub Oliver is president of Union University in Tennessee.

OLIVER: The things that you would expect happened… people called us hateful and shameful and bigoted for our belief that marriage is between one man and one woman for a lifetime and that sex is biological and fixed at birth.

The list almost cost many schools their athletic programs just two months later. More than 80 activist organizations sent letters to the NCAA, asking it to divest all the exempted colleges. In other words, they wanted to kill the Christian sports programs.

The NCAA refused and said it did not want to get involved in the dispute. But Christian schools continued to oppose the list’s existence because of its underlying assumption of discrimination.

JACKSON: Well, I just think the publishing of any form of list of people who have what’s presumed to be an automatic exemption is an attempt to single out religious institutions and that’s exactly what this so-called shame list attempted to do.

But that could soon change. The Trump administration has proposed changes to Title IX enforcement that would allow Christian colleges to claim exemptions without having to notify the Education Department. Supporters say that’s what Congress intended in the first place, when it adopted Title IX. Lawmakers never wanted exemptions subject to administrative oversight. They also never intended them to be used as a weapon against religious schools.

Leaders in Christian higher education are quietly celebrating the Trump administration proposal. But it’s still possible the shame list might get reinstated in the final policy draft. That’s why Dub Oliver isn’t putting his full faith in the government.

OLIVER: We’re clear that our hope is not in any particular administration—our hope is in Christ… Our stance is that we might have a reprieve right now, but we gotta be vigilant about these questions.

The good news is that once the policy changes are finalized, they’re likely to stick around for a while. The Trump administration is going through the formal rule-making process, rather than using the administrative directives favored by the Obama administration. That means the policy won’t be easily overturned by a future administration less sympathetic to religious liberty concerns.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Kyle Ziemnick.

(Photo/Union University) The Union University campus in Jackson, Tenn. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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