A U.S. District Court has dismissed a lawsuit brought against the United States Department of Education, ruling that religious liberty protections for colleges and universities should remain intact.
The court’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit brought by a group of LGBT students who argued that religious liberty protections should not be allowed to interfere with the rights of LGBT students.
The lawsuit was filed last year by the LGBT student group, “the Religious Exemption Accountability Project,” which argued that religious liberty protections should not be allowed to interfere with the rights of LGBT students attending religious colleges that received government funding.
The LGBT students argued that these religious liberty protections should be revoked in order to protect LGBT students from discrimination. US District Court Judge Ann Aikin disagreed with the LGBT students’ argument, ruling that while the religious liberty exemptions do not necessarily condone discrimination against LGBT students, they are necessary to protect the religious liberty of colleges and universities.
The judge noted that the Supreme Court has long held that religious liberty protections are essential to the free exercise of religion. The government and The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, which had intervened in the case to protect member institutions’ interests, had argued that religious liberty protections are necessary to protect religious institutions from government interference. The Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit have upheld religious exemptions to discrimination provisions, wrote the Judge because they “constituted a secular purpose by protecting the exercise of religion in institutions from unwarranted and substantial infringement.” Judge Aikin also cited Pieszak v. Glendale Adventist Med. Ctr., 112 F. Supp. 2d 970, noting that a “broad religious exemption to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act constituted ‘a permissible legislative purpose.'”
Congress may also “carve out a religious exemption from otherwise neutral, generally applicable laws based on its power to enact the underlying statute in the first place.”
The Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the exceptions that allowed religious institutions to discriminate violated the Establishment Clause or that Defendant, the government, had violated Plaintiff’s religious beliefs.
The institutions named in the lawsuit included Bob Jones University, Baylor University, Nyack College, Union University (Jackson, Tennessee), Brigham Young University, Lipscomb University, Fuller Theological Seminary, York College, Cedarville University, Clarks Summit University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Toccoa Falls Colleges, Messiah University, Dordt University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Azusa Pacific University, La Sierra University, and Liberty University.
The January 12, 2023 ruling is likely to be appealed.
Hunter v. United States Department of Education and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.