How A University Used A Religious Exemption To Discriminate Against A Transgender Student


In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, LGBT organizations have been rethinking whether they can support a religious exemption in employment protection policies, and it seems they have good reason to be concerned. A Christian university in Oregon just used a religious exemption in a 40-year-old law to justify discriminating against a transgender student.

PQ Monthly reports that George Fox University has successfully obtained a religious exemption from the Department of Education (DOE) to deny a transgender student named Jayce a place in the campus’ single-sex residence halls. When Jayce first filed his complaint in April, the university said that it had offered him a single apartment as an accommodation, but that it stood by its refusal to allow him to live with other men on religious grounds.

By conceding to the university’s intention to discriminate, it seems that the DOE was simply following the letter of the law. Title IX has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex since it passed in 1972, and in 2010, the DOE issued guidance clarifying that Title IX also protects LGBT students from sex discrimination, which would include cases like Jayce’s. But the original 1972 law includes a broad exemption for religious universities: “This section shall not apply to an educational institution which is controlled by a religious organization if the application of this subsection would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”

In other words, religious universities are free to ignore any sex nondiscrimination protection they disagree with, and George Fox has just used that exemption to discriminate against a transgender student.

On its website, the university identifies one of its key values as representing “the ethnic, socio-economic, cultural, and gender diversity of the broader Kingdom of God.” In its commitment to diversity, it also admits, “Yet we know from our own history and from the scriptural record of God’s relationships with human beings that we also miss the mark in some important ways.” ThinkProgress reached out to George Fox for comment, but nobody familiar with the case was available to respond.