Home News Protests and debate erupt over Title IX exemptions for Christian colleges

Protests and debate erupt over Title IX exemptions for Christian colleges

Protests and debate erupt over Title IX exemptions for Christian colleges

Protests, hundreds of news reports, and possible congressional actions have all occurred following a Dec. 1 report by The Column. That report, Dozens of Christian schools win Title IX waivers to ban LGBT students, put the spotlight to a growing trend at Christian colleges and universities around the country: obtaining Title IX waivers from the U.S. Dept. of Education requesting an exemption to laws that bar anti-LGBT discrimination.

News outlets in Oregon, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Kansas, Indiana, and Arkansas asked tough questions of the schools discriminating against LGBT students while also taking federal aid and grants.

Following that report, Sen. Al Franken and seven other senators asked the Dept. of Education to make public the names of schools that have asked for such waivers.

Groups respond
Campus Pride created a “shame list” of schools that have requested the waivers.

“Religion-based bigotry is careless and life-threatening,” Shane Windmeyer, Executive Director of Campus Pride, said in a statement. “LGBTQ young people face high rates of harassment and violence, especially our trans youth and LGBTQ youth of color. The schools on this list have requested Title IX exemption based on religion-based bigotry targeting LGBQ and transgender people for no other purpose than to discriminate, expel and ban them from campus. It is shameful and wrong. ”

He continued, “Families and young people deserve to know that this list of schools are not loving, welcoming, safe spaces to live, learn and grow – and taxpayers should definitely not have to pay for a private college to openly discriminate against anyone. We will continue to update this list and bring attention nationally, calling these acts out unloving and blatant discrimination.”

NGLTF issued a statement on Facebook that read:

Religiously affiliated colleges receiving taxpayer money are using religious exemptions to justify discriminatory treatment against transgender students–with the protection of the federal government.
Since 2014, when federal courts determined that the Civil Rights Act’s Title IX protections apply to trans people, there has been a massive surge in colleges seeking and receiving religious exemptions to Title IX.
This backlash against the transgender community is reprehensible. Faith should never be used as an excuse to discriminate–and federal funding should not be distributed to colleges promoting persecution of transgender people.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests condemning the waivers: “It’s troubling to learn that dozens of colleges have won exemptions from laws that apply to other institutions,” David Clohessy, director of SNAP, said in a statement. “We believe these exemptions will make these colleges less safe for students and staff and will make it easier for administrators to hide sexual violence.”

Almost three weeks after The Column’s report, the Human Rights Campaign released a similar report titled, Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk.

Some news outlets and groups were critical of the report. The National Review, Christianity Today, and the Baptist Press all wrote pieces supportive of the schools.

At least one school has reacted to the negative attention. Multnomah University in Portland, Ore., released a statement defending its Title IX waiver that states, “Multnomah University does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.” The statement then links to a human sexuality policy that calls homosexuality “detestable” and encourages transgender students to seek professional help in becoming cisgender.

National news
The New York Times’ Liam Stack wrote a story noting The Column’s investigative research. MTV, Cosmopolitan, Jezebel, Huffington Post, The Advocate, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and hundreds more news outlets reported on the story.

Protest in Portland
News outlets in Portland, Ore. covered the issue, asked for answers from Multnomah University, and reported on the protests that sprung up after news of that school’s waiver was made public.

Fox 12 caught a statement from Multnomah President Dr. Craig Williford telling faculty and students about a planned protest: “Multnomah University does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. We ask all of our students to affirm that they will abide by our community standards and human sexuality policy. Our standards and polices align with historic, orthodox Christian views, our core values and our doctrinal statement.”

In a letter obtained by KOIN 6 News, Williford wrote: “Treating transgender students in a way that’s consistent with their gender identity would conflict with their religious tenents.”

Local news outlets in Knoxville, Tenn. covered the waiver that was obtained by Carson-Newman University. ABC 8-WATE in Knoxville asked Carson-Newman University President Dr. Randall O’Brien about the waiver:

He said, “This is who we are. These are our religious principles and, in a changing world, we want to reaffirm who we are and intend to be.”

Dr. O’Brien told Local 8 News he filed for the waiver after his attorney advised him to do so. Anchor Lauren Davis asked him, “You’re the president, you’re not going to file anything unless you understand it.”

Dr. O’Brien responded, “Yeah. I understood our legal council said it would further make us a Christian school.”

When Lauren asked whether the school plans to discriminate against students, Dr. O’Brien said, “I don’t know how it would be.”

Lauren further asked, “Why file the waiver?”

Dr. O’Brien says, “That’s a good question.”

He says the waiver won’t change the policy already in place, and again shifted the spotlight on the school’s attorney saying, “I believe he felt it would strengthen our First Amendment rights. I don’t know why something would be necessary, but since he’s counsel, I felt we’d follow the template.”

A pair of alumni demanded that the university revoke the waiver, according to WATE. Travis Cooper and Dr. Jared Champion wrote a letter to O’Brien:

We write to you regarding Carson-Newman University’s decision to seek and accept a waiver to the provisions of Title IX. In a moment when division and hate abound, we were heartbroken to learn that Carson-Newman University missed an opportunity to show love and acceptance, values that are actually taught by Jesus. We have chosen to address this issue in an open letter because we want the world to know that the values you label ‘Christian’ are not held by all, and there are plenty of Christians who accept everyone without qualification.

WATE also noted that a member of the LGBT community met with university officials about the waiver.

Pride Source in Lansing, Mich., noted that the waiver sought by Spring Arbor University could clash with the city’s non-discrimination ordinance:

A federal waiver granted to Spring Arbor University is causing officials in the city of Lansing to take a second look at the city’s human rights ordinance. The law was passed in 2006 — a decade after voters overwhelming rejected a similar law in a contentious ballot fight.
Spring Arbor University officials sought a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights last spring. The waiver, which was granted only months later, allows the self-described “Christian” university to discriminate in all offerings against the LGBT community, as well as unwed, pregnant or single mothers. The university sought the waiver as part of expressing their religious beliefs, but also so it could continue to accept federal funding streams — including grants and educational related payments such as Pell Grants.


The Peabody Gazette-Bulletin in Kansas spoke with Tabor College President Jules Glanzer about accommodating transgender students. “With the exemption, we simply don’t have to accommodate those requests,” Glanzer told the paper. “We get to set the accommodations, not the federal government. At the core, it helps us live with our integrity of who we are and what our confession of faith says we believe.”

The South Bend Tribune in Indiana spoke with Bethel College President Gregg Chenoweth who said the school allows gay and lesbian students to enroll as long as they don’t have relationships:

Bethel College earlier this year sought and received a federal waiver from Title IX requirements intended to protect LGBT students and employees from discrimination.
The waiver doesn’t mean that individuals who are attracted to the same sex are prohibited from attending or graduating from Bethel, but rather that they must be celibate, just as Bethel’s unmarried heterosexual students are expected to be, Bethel President Gregg Chenoweth said Wednesday in a telephone interview. The same standard applies to employees, he said.
“When we admit a student, we do not require a profession of faith or a declaration of sexual identity. We have students who are atheists and we have students who are gay,” he said.
The exemption hasn’t made any practical difference in Bethel’s operations, the president said. “Our sense is this hasn’t really caused much of a ripple on campus,” he said.
Chenoweth said he requested the exemption in response to President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting discrimination in the civilian federal workforce on the basis of gender identity and in hiring by federal contractors on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
He said he requested the exemption with counsel from the college’s board of trustees. There was concern that the executive order might place Bethel in the position of being forced to violate its religious standards, said Chenoweth, who also is an ordained minister in the Missionary Church.

Arkansas Times covered the issue including a statement from Williams Baptist College:

We applied for the waiver on the advice of a Southern Baptist Convention attorney, who recommended the move after the definition of sex discrimination under Title IX was expanded to include discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, gender identity, gender stereotyping, or participation in same-sex marriage.
Beyond Title IX and legal issues, maybe this statement can shed some light on what we view to be our responsibilities as a Christian institution in this regard: Williams Baptist College is committed to two key principles regarding sexual ethics. The first is upholding a traditional, scriptural view of human sexual relations, and the second is showing steadfast love and respect for all people. It is the view of WBC that scripture mandates sexual relationships be confined exclusively to a traditional marriage of one man and one woman. Williams will abide by this ethic, and it will hold its students and employees accountable to it. We also believe that scripture mandates a clearly demonstrated love for every person, including those whose opinions or lifestyles differ from WBC’s convictions. While we certainly understand the contentious nature of sexual issues in contemporary culture, Williams is committed to handling such matters with grace, compassion and Christ-like love.

North Carolina
The Gaston Gazette in North Carolina asked Belmont Abbey College about the waiver it recieved.
Chancellor Abbot Placid Solari told the paper, “We as a college are bound by our Catholic identity, and the persons that are here need to understand that the college will conduct itself as its identity. “Anyone can apply who wishes to, but they need to know that this is how we conduct our college’s life.”

Journalist Matt Comer also covered the issue in North Carolina and notes that it’s not the first time Belmont Abbey College has made headlines on the issue:

It’s not the first time Belmont Abbey has sought exemption from government rules and regulations. The school made waves after the passage of the Affordable Health Act when it filed suit against requirements that employers provide free contraceptives in their health insurance plans. The later Hobby Lobby case, decided by the Supreme Court in 2014, affirmed private institutions’ rights to decline such coverage.

Georgia Public Radio station WABE covered the issue, focusing on Covenant College which also got a waiver:

Jan Love, dean of Emory’s Candler School of Theology, said she’s not surprised to hear about the requests, though she hasn’t heard of other Georgia schools following suit.

“Increasingly, Christian denominations are seeing the need to ordain those who are gay and lesbian, to marry those who are gay and lesbian, but the number of denominations who are in the forefront of doing those things, in the great landscape of all churches across the country and the world, are still a minority,” said Love.

She said she acknowledges the difficult position that Christians from some theological perspectives feel they’re in when navigating these issues, but believes it’s separate from issues of individual citizens’ rights.

“For any group of people to be essentially labeled second class citizens, not only is discrimination, but it invites invidious distinctions and potentially violence,” said Love.

Previous article MN cities score above average on LGBT equality study
Next article Tim Campbell, longtime Minneapolis gay news publisher, dies at 76
Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.


  1. This is CONDONED Conduct by the United States Government of denial of CIVIL RIGHTS for Religious Institutions.
    Against the Constitution of the USA.
    This is also an open door to Muslims to demand their right to Sharia Law, so think twice about appeasing any Religious Group as it will come back on you, to BITE very HARD.

  2. Why is this being framed primarily as an “LGBT” issue when many more heterosexual cisgender women like those: who had an abortion, pregnant out of wedlock, unmarried cohabitation with males, etc. will be discriminated against than LGBT people will?

  3. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but as the author of this piece, I can say it’s about LGBT equity because this is a news organization focused on LGBT equity. I don’t think that focusing on one type of oppression somehow denied other kinds of oppression, or that looking at sheer numbers of those discriminated against should guide how or why we react. Finally, for many of these waivers, the exemption is requested specifically to discriminate against LGBT people. I hope that adds some clarification for the editorial decisions being made.

  4. So we should follow the law which has made it legal and ethical to discriminate against religious institutions’ right to follow their religious tenets.

Comments are closed.