Biden DOJ promises to 'vigorously' defend religious schools' 'right' to discriminate against LGBTQ people

Biden DOJ promises to 'vigorously' defend religious schools' 'right' to discriminate against LGBTQ people
Chuck Kennedy for The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Merrick Garland

40 LGBTQ students are suing the U.S. Dept. of Education for allowing the faith-based colleges they attend to discriminate against them while receiving taxpayer funds and federal support. The Dept. of Justice, which generally defends the federal government and the laws of the United States, has promised it will "vigorously" defend the several dozen schools against the lawsuit.

If this were the Trump Justice Dept., many Americans would not be surprised. And while there is a wall between the White House and the DOJ, President Joe Biden has said passing the LGBTQ Equality Act is among his top priorities. (Majority Leader Schumer has indicated he will bring it to the floor for a vote this month.)

Add to all this that the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming days is expected to hand down its decision in a case filed by a Christian adoption agency that lost its contract with the City of Philadelphia for refusing to work with LGBTQ and same-sex couples.

The Washington Post reports the DOJ's promise "it can 'vigorously' defend a religious exemption from federal civil rights law that allows federally funded religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students," is "a move that surprised some LGBTQ advocates who said the wording went further than just an obligation to defend an existing law."

During the Obama years the Dept. of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder refused to defend in court a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, declaring he and President Obama had decided it was unconstitutional. (The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately agreed.)

"In the filing," the Post adds, "the Biden administration said it 'shares the same ultimate objective' as the conservative Christian schools named in the case."

LGBTQ activists are displeased.

"What this means is that the government is now aligning itself with anti-LGBTQ hate in order to vigorously defend an exemption that everyone knows causes severe harm to LGBTQ students using taxpayer money," said Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, which filed the case in March on behalf of dozens of current and past students at conservative religious colleges and universities. "It will make our case harder if the federal government plans to vigorously defend it like they have indicated."

The lawsuit says the schools are "fueled by government funding," and yet the Dept. of Education'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 Religious Exemption Accountability Project says its lawsuit "asserts the constitutional and basic human rights of LGBTQ+ students, seeking to end the sexual, physical and psychological abuses perpetrated under the religious exemption to Title IX at thousands of federally-funded schools, colleges and universities across America."

The Constitution guarantees equal rights for all Americans, holding space for religious belief and practice, while ensuring that religion does not serve as a government-funded vehicle to harm racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, religious or other minorities. Government action that ignores this central principal, including the religious exemption to Title IX, is unconstitutional and must be remedied immediately.

Several right-wing groups are asking the courts to be included in the lawsuit to defend the religious exemption and their "right" to discriminate.

Among them, the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal firm that has won at the U.S. Supreme Court and appears on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups.

On its website ADF describes the lawsuit as a demand the schools "renounce core religious beliefs," which apparently includes discriminating against LGBTQ students.

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