The U.S. Department of Education has granted a Christian university a religious exemption from federal antidiscrimination law, allowing it to deny housing accommodations to a transgender student.
In early April, Jayce Marcus filed a complaint with the Education Department against George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., after being told that his request to be housed with other male students or given a waiver to live off campus was denied, alleging that this constituted gender discrimination prohibited by Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.
Later that month, the Education Department issued clarification about whether Title IX's ban on sex discrimination applied to trans students, affirming that the law does protect these students, though the Education Department's vague language drove a number of legislators to ask for a firm, comprehensive assertion regarding Title IX's coverage of trans students. President Obama lauded the agency's clarification, offering support for the rights of trans students.
According to PQ Monthly, a Portland-based LGBT magazine, the Education Department this week officially denied Marcus's complaint, quickly granting the university a “religious exemption” from having to follow portions of Title IX that administrators say conflict with the school's theological views.
“George Fox University, without telling us, requested a religious exemption to the Title IX regulations regarding housing, restrooms and athletics as they apply to transgender students,” Marcus's attorney, Paul Southwick, tells PQ Monthly. “GFU requested this exemption from the U.S. Department of Education a mere three days before denying Jayce’s final appeal to the university and a mere four days before Jayce filed his complaint with the DOE. The DOE granted the request for the religious exemption with surprising speed — only two months, rather than the years it has taken historically to get an exemption. Based on the exemption, the DOE closed Jayce’s complaint. The DOE did all of this without telling us anything about the exemption request, despite my repeated calls and emails for information and status updates. After I received their letter, a representative from the DOE told me he was ‘not authorized’ to discuss the religious exemption with me. Normally, the DOE decides whether to investigate a complaint within 30 days. In Jayce’s case, they made us wait about 90 days, all without telling us the real reason they were making us wait. We are going to appeal the DOE’s ruling.”
As for Marcus, he is confused and disappointed, telling PQ Monthly, “I’m shocked and disappointed that the federal government has given George Fox permission to discriminate against me and is allowing it to do so with federal funds, but I’m not giving up. I deserve to be treated like the other men on campus. Apparently, the university disagrees, as they have made clear by forcing me to live off-campus. The university is operating under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal,’ and the religious exemption they received now gives the government’s stamp of approval to what they are doing. My own tax dollars will fund the university’s discrimination against me. I don’t understand it and I don’t think it is fair.”
This revelation comes in the wake of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, which led many LGBT advocates to fear that organizations would seek to use religious freedom as a means to discriminate against LGBT people.
George Fox University was founded by members of the Society of Friends (Quakers), typically an LGBT-friendly church, and some Quakers are speaking out against the university's stance. “It is our understanding that our ‘Faith and Practice’ provides no theological grounds whatsoever for excluding transgender students from housing consistent with their gender identity,” Oregon pastors C. Wess Daniels and Mike Huber wrote to the university. “As Quakers, the biblical teaching that men and women are created in the image of God convicts us that ‘ … all persons have equal value and are created in the image of God.’ ... The theological framework of our Faith and Practice affirms the inherent dignity of all people, regardless of their gender identity.”