Federal Judge Upholds Title IX Religious Exemptions

In January, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken of Oregon dismissed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education seeking to end Title IX exemptions for religious educational institutions that receive federal government funding. In 2021, 40 LGBTQ+ students from religious colleges filed a class action lawsuit through the advocacy group The Religious Exemption Accountability Project challenging the provision in Title IX that provides an exemption from sex-based discrimination to religious institutions.

Higher Ed Dive reports that the students provided over 400 exhibits to support their allegations that they were subject to discrimination, which included being denied student housing, being coerced into conversion therapy, and expulsion. The Religious Exemption Accountability Project argued that Title IX’s religious exemption violated their equal protection and First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Although the court did not reject the premise that the students had experienced harm, Aiken nevertheless rejected their legal arguments as “confusing and contradictory.” Aiken’s decision noted that the students’ argument failed to show any discriminatory motive by Congress or that the exemption violated the First Amendment.

The Religious Exemption Accountability Project is considering an appeal of the ruling.

What Is the Title IX Religious Exemption?

Title IX states that its provisions do “not apply to an educational institution which is controlled by a religious organization.” This exemption extends so far as the institution’s religious tenets conflict with Title IX provisions. These exemptions were part of the political compromise that allowed legislators to pass Title IX.

In practice, the Office for Civil Rights has never denied a claim for a religious exemption to Title IX. While historically the number of colleges claiming exemptions was small, since the Obama administration’s guidance on LGBTQ students, the number of religious exemptions being claimed has increased.

In response, LGTBQ+ students have been filing legal challenges to the religious exemption, of which this latest case is an example. At Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC, we are committed to remaining abreast of all the latest Title IX developments, including those that impact religious institutions and LGTBQ+ people.

If you have questions about Title IX or how Title IX applies to LGBTQ+ students at religious institutions, contact us online or call us at (737) 200-2332 to schedule a consultation.