Washington, D. C. – The Department of Justice announced on June 8 that it will “vigorously” defend a religious exemption from federal civil rights law that allows federally funded religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students. The announcement surprised some LGBTQ advocates who said the wording went further than just an obligation to defend an existing law. In the filing, the Biden administration said it “shares the same ultimate objective” as the conservative Christian schools named in the case.

At issue is a lawsuit filed by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, which filed a lawsuit in March on behalf of dozens of students and former students at religious colleges and universities. The students are suing the Department of Education for providing federal funding to colleges and universities that have discriminatory policies. The schools in the lawsuit (Hunter v. Department of Education) argue that they have the First Amendment right to promote their own religious beliefs on sexuality and gender.  he Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), which counts many of the schools named in the lawsuit as members, said in May that it could not trust the Biden administration to fully defend them and pushed to get involved in the case. However, the Justice Department – which is charged with upholding federal law – opposed such a move, saying in its filing Tuesday that it shares the same “ultimate objective” as the schools in the case “to uphold the Religious Exemption as it is currently applied.” CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra said she was relieved by the DOJ saying that it wants to “defend religious exemptions,” the Washington Post reported.

“What this means is that the government is now aligning itself with anti-LGBTQ hate in order to vigorously defend an exemption that everyone knows causes severe harm to LGBTQ students using taxpayer money,” said Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project. “It will make our case harder if the federal government plans to vigorously defend it like they have indicated.” The Biden administration has been seen as an ally of the LGBTQ community and has pushed for passage of the Equality Act, which would expand protections in education, employment, housing, and more to LGBT people. (Seattle Gay News – Mike Andrew at http://sgn.org/sgnnews49_24/page1.cfm)