Why these US Christian colleges want exemption from transgender anti-discrimination rules

Many Christian colleges have applied for exemption from a law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people.Pixabay

Around 70 US Christian colleges and universities have applied to be exempted from rules prohibiting discrimination against transgender people since 2009.

The US Department of Education has listed all the institutions and has made the requests public because of the "exceptional public demand for more information on this topic".

Many more applied before 2009.

The legislation in question is the 'Title IX' statute which forbids discrimination on the grounds of sex. Educational institutions deemed to be "controlled by a religious organisation" can apply for exemption if they train ministers, require a personal belief in their religion from students and staff or if their charters say they are committed to the doctrines of a particular religion.

The DOE has listed the requests made by the institutions and its own responses. Among them is an application by Liberty University, which had received a complaint that its 'Honor Code, under which it disciplined students who had abortions, was discriminatory because it only applied to women.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote referring to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 document which addressed sexual ethics. It said that if the regulation prevented the seminary from subjecting students to rules about "the assignment of housing, restrooms and locker rooms, and restriction to athletic activities by birth sex" as well as rules about sex outside marriage and abortion, it would be conflict with the institution's religious tenets.

Louisiana College's submission said: "Regarding human sexuality, the teaching of the Bible and the beliefs of the Baptist Church, both of which are followed by the college, are that God created two sexes, male and female; that marriage is between one man and one woman for a lifetime; and that extramarital sex, premarital sex, and the practice of homosexuality are sinful behaviours and therefore prohibited."

It continued: "Lousiana College believes that a person cannot change his/her birth gender and so much be treated as such; rather than a self-identified gender, which would be inconsistent with the college's beliefs."

The exemptions mean that colleges are free to set their own policies regarding sexual ethics and how they treat transgender people and cannot be sued for discriminatory practice.

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued guidance in April 2014 confirming that transgender students were protected under Title IX. The Department of Justice has told the University of North Carolina, where much-criticised anti-transgender laws have been passed, that it is in breach of Title IX because it is enforcing the state law.