A spate of stories appeared this week about a movement by Christian colleges, including one in Arkansas, to seek waivers from federal Title IX, passed to stop sex discrimination at colleges receiving federal money. The colleges want to be able to discriminate against LGBT students and, in some cases, women who have had sex outside marriage or had abortions.
This article focuses on Carson-Newman in Tennessee, and an interview with President Randall O’Brien, who explained that college’s decision to get a waiver to allow it toban pregnant students, women who have had an abortion, single mothers, LGBT students and others at religious variance.
O’Brien’s legal counsel encouraged him to file the waiver, which exempts the school from allowing students protections usually afforded to them under Title IX. The university’s president claimed doing so only “strengthen[s] our First Amendment rights.”
These “strengthened” rights include not only the ability to ban gay students, but also unwed mothers, women who’ve had abortions and even pregnant students, according to WVLT. And Carson-Newman is hardly the only college now able to do so: The university’s legal counsel filed similar waivers for many other Christian schools, according to the same report, and 30 others are similarly exempt from Title IX.
Nationwide, 27 colleges have received waivers and nine applications are pending. According to a report in The Column, these colleges include Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge, which received $1.3 million in federal money in 2014 and enrolls 572. According to federal records, Williams was granted a waiver to allow religion-rooted discrimination based on “marriage, sex outside of marriage, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, and abortion.”
Title IX, passed in 1972, forbids sex discrimination and most colleges get federal funding, particularly in student aid. The law allowed a schooll “controlled by a religious organization” to apply for a waiver from the nondiscrimination requirement if complying with Title IX “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.” It wasn’t much used until recently, when the fear of accepting transgender students seems to have inspired waiver applications, many using the same language suggested by a Christian legal group. But it has expanded beyond transgender concerns and in some places for both students and tatff.
When this began developing more than a year ago, the first colleges with concerns talked primarily about housing. But as Inside Higher Ed notes that expanded in many place to keeping out certain types of students. It led to policies such as these at a Michigan church school:
Spring Arbor is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church and its traditions. It requested exemption from Title IX with regard to issues of admissions, behavioral rules, housing, access to restrooms, athletic participation and more.
The university’s student handbook says: “Spring Arbor University reserves the right to terminate or deny enrollment of those whose influence upon our community should prove to be in our judgment intractably contrary to the best interests of our students, and commitments to our university and to our Lord. Therefore, Spring Arbor University will not support persistent or conspicuous examples of cross-dressing or other expressions or actions that are deliberately discordant with birth gender, and will deal with such matters within the appropriate pastoral and conduct processes of the university.”
The university also sought and received permission to enforce rules against gay students. In the letter to the Education Department requesting an exemption, the university wrote: “The university has deeply held religious beliefs, based upon Biblical principles and the Book of Discipline, which do not allow for any sexuality, other than heterosexuality. The university also believes, based upon Biblical principles, that a person cannot change their birth gender.” The university also stated that these rules apply to hiring as well
I sought a comment from Williams Baptist, which asked for questions in writing, and I’ve sent some along. Meanwhile, the college’s website does indicate compliance with Title IX in this respect:
Title IX – Sexual Assault Response and PreventionTitle IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects individuals from discrimination based on sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Under this law, males and females are expected to receive fair and equitable treatment in all areas of public schooling. Williams Baptist College has designated a Title IX coordinator to monitor and oversee the overall implementation of the Title IX compliance. Any incidence of sexual discrimination including sexual harassment and sexual violence should be reported to the Title IX coordinator, who will take prompt action to secure a full and equitable review.
UPDATE: College spokesman Brett Cooper got back to me a day after the original post with a thorough response to some written questions. It follows in full:
Max: To answer the second question first, no, to date we have not had occasion to apply this waiver. We received the waiver in December of 2014, so it has been in place for a year.
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.
Religious protections are provided within the Title IX law, which states that the law “shall not apply to an educational institution which is controlled by a religious organization if the application of this subsection would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.” However, the exemption is not automatic, and the Department of Education has issued regulations stating that schools wishing to rely on this exemption must “[submit] in writing to the Assistant Secretary a statement by the highest ranking official of the institution, identifying the provisions of this part which conflict with a specific tenet of the religious organization.” So, that is what WBC did last year.
Williams takes very seriously its compliance with Title IX. The college does not, and will not, discriminate on the basis of sex across the board. There are, however, certain convictions which Baptists have held strongly for hundreds of years. For example, here is how our student handbook states WBC’s sexual ethic:
“Williams Baptist College holds to a biblical sexual ethic and definition of sexual identity. But because we believe that all men and women are created in the image of God, we believe in the love and grace of God for all people, for those who live by a traditional sexual ethic and those who do not. Based on our understanding of biblical standards, the values of the College community do not condone sexual impropriety, such as the use of pornography, pre-marital sex, adultery, co-habitation on or off campus, homosexual activity including same-sex dating behaviors, and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. Williams does not endorse or approve of the trans-gendered lifestyle. Thus, we welcome all qualified individuals to our campus, but we do not condone sex-related behaviors that are contrary to our values and our interpretation of scripture (Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:23-24, Leviticus 19:2, Micah 6:8, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Galatians 5:16-26, Ephesians 5:1-4).”
WBC remains committed to such principles, so the college sought this waiver in order to assure it has the broadest possible rights to be a Baptist college, and so that it can continue to follow its religious convictions without the risk of violating its Title IX compliance.
Just for background, Williams Baptist College is a private, religious institution and does not receive any direct government funding. We do, however, accept students who receive government scholarship assistance. WBC is a four-year, liberal arts college with an enrollment of over 500 students. It is owned and operated by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
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.