Court Rules Religious Universities Can Receive Federal Funding While Adhering To Their Faith Beliefs

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UPDATE: This piece has been updated to include a statement from Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Ryan Tucker, who clarified that the case specifically regards religious colleges being able to accept federal funding in the form of financial aid for students.

An Oregon federal district court ruled Thursday that students are allowed to use federal aid to attend religious universities that operate according to their religious beliefs.

The case Hunter v. the U.S. Department of Education (DOED) was initially filed in March 2021 after 40 LGBTQ former and current students, who had applied to multiple religious schools, sought to amend Title IX’s provision allowing religious universities to discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity and receive federal funding, according to the opinion. A judge ruled late Thursday to dismiss the case, effectively upholding the right of religious schools to practice their faith and obtain federal funding.

In the opinion, Judge Ann Aiken stated in the opinion that Congress had allowed for a limited exemption for religious institutions if they can prove that it is a religious organization that operates under “religious tenets.” She further explained that after reviewing the claims presented, the plaintiff’s case did not have standing based on the merits. (RELATED: ‘Simply Common Sense’: A Federal Ruling On Transgender Bathrooms Could Also Apply To Women’s Sports, Legal Experts Say)

“In the course of litigation, the Court reviewed approximately 400 exhibits and thousands of pages of declarations from individual Plaintiffs detailing the treatment they experienced at their religious schools based on their sexual orientation and gender identity; from academic exclusion and denial of student housing, to coerced conversion therapy, to prohibition from forming LGBTQ+ support groups on campus,” the opinion stated. “However, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have not alleged the elements necessary to state a legal claim on the merits of their action.”

The judge also notes that while the plaintiffs stated that Title IX’s “narrow” exemption is designed to primarily discriminate based on sex, she points out that later in their arguments, the plaintiffs acknowledge that when “Congress enacted Title IX, protections for—or discrimination against sexual and gender minorities—were ‘of no concern.'” As a result, the court dismissed the request to amend Title IX.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King (R) and high school track athlete Maya Mosley (L) listen to US First Lady Jill Biden speak during an event to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX at Capitol One Arena in Washington, DC, on June 22, 2022. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

During the lawsuit, a judge allowed three Christian colleges, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), to join as co-defendants and argue the necessity of Title IX’s religious exemption, according to an ADF press release.  Ryan Tucker, ADF senior counsel, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that he was “very grateful” for the court’s decision.

“The government shouldn’t strip students of their financial aid just because they attend a school with widely held religious beliefs, and this case impacts everybody,” Tucker stated. “People of every faith would have to fall in line with government orthodoxy or suffer severe penalties according to the plaintiffs and what they were seeking, so the short version is religious students deserve the same access to financial aid as every other student.”

The DOED and attorneys for Hunter did not respond to DCNF’s request for comment.

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