Religious exemption in George Fox transgender case

By George Fox University

It has been reported that the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has closed and effectively denied a complaint against the university filed by a local attorney/activist on behalf of a transgender student. George Fox never received the complaint nor received official confirmation of its dismissal.

On May 23, 2014, the DOE granted George Fox University a religious exemption from the Title IX Education Amendments of 1972, specifically the provisions related to housing and facilities. The university sought this exemption to preserve its right to draw on its religious convictions to handle situations related to students experiencing gender identity issues. Other colleges have received similar Title IX exemptions in the past.

Contrary to some reports in the media, George Fox continues to offer the student an on-campus single apartment, which was originally declined by the student.

Providing appropriate housing for transgender students continues to be a challenge at religious and non-religious institutions across the country.

Further Clarification

What is the university’s housing policy?

The university has a single-sex dorm policy it has developed in light of its religious convictions. It has the discretion to assign students to housing, including when they assert a gender inconsistent with their birth sex.

Why did George Fox seek a Title IX exemption?

George Fox claimed the exemption because a local attorney/activist was threatening to use federal intervention to force the university to act in a manner inconsistent with its religious convictions.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is charged with administering the law. The regulations OCR adopted under Title IX expressly permit universities to provide separate housing on the basis of sex.

Until last year, OCR had not even hinted that the word “sex” in Title IX also meant “gender identity.” It was only on April 29, 2014, after the student filed his complaint, that OCR clearly stated that “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity.” To date, however, OCR has failed to explain what its new interpretation of Title IX actually requires. For example, no one knows whether OCR believes that Title IX requires universities to permit biological males who identify as female to play on women’s sports teams. Similarly, it is not at all clear whether a university must accede to every housing-related demand a transgender student makes or face federal intervention under Title IX.

In adopting Title IX, Congress respected religious liberty by declaring that the law’s restraints do not apply where they “would not be consistent with the religious tenets” of the school. OCR set up a mechanism under which religious universities may claim the exemption given them by Congress.

Consistent with our nation’s historical commitment to religious freedom, countless federal, state, and local laws exempt religious individuals and organizations from laws that interfere with their religious exercise. In addition to Title IX, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 permits religious employers to consider religious belief and conduct in their personnel decisions. Conscientious objectors to military service and the swearing of oaths have received exemptions from the earliest days of our country.

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