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Christian College Claims Biden Executive Order Violates Religious Freedom and Student Safety

This case is crucial for every parent who wants a safe environment for their children to learn and become adults while their privacy and safety are protected.
Matt Bowman
Written by
This case is crucial for every parent who wants a safe environment for their children to learn and become adults while their privacy and safety are protected

Sending children to college is simultaneously exciting and wistful for parents, as I experienced with my son and will likely experience with my oldest daughter in a few years. We watch our children begin to embrace adult responsibility and develop greater intellect, while we mourn the vacancy they leave in our homes.

We also fear for their physical safety. When a child is living away from home for the first time, we feel less able to protect them. I hope all five of my children will learn in environments that challenge them to develop as people and as followers of Christ, and I also expect their schools to take common-sense steps to protect their personal safety.

But now the federal government is ordering schools to endanger college women, and every parent should be alarmed.

On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order that required his bureaucrats to rewrite the term “sex” in civil rights laws away from biology to mean interchangeable “gender identity” and sexual orientation. Wasting no time, the president’s Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a “directive” three weeks later, ordering that the Fair Housing Act be “fully enforced” to ban gender identity discrimination, including in college dorms. The president hailed this “rule change” despite HUD refusing to let the public even comment on it.

This directive means that, because college dorms are regulated under the Fair Housing Act, colleges will suffer government punishment unless they let males live in women’s dorms and dorm rooms (and vice versa), and unless the colleges stop telling students (and parents) that dorms and dorm conduct policies will be enforced based on biology regardless of “gender identity.”

College of the Ozarks, a private religious college in southern Missouri, knew how this government overreach would threaten its mission and the safety of its students. Like many schools, the college has male dorms and female dorms. The opposite sex cannot visit, much less live in, the others’ dorms. The college bases this time-honored policy on the book of Genesis – which teaches that “male and female He created them” – and on common sense protection of students’ safety, privacy, and virtue. Students – and parents – don’t want an environment on campus where women have to worry about men being in their living spaces or showers, and vice versa.

To protect the college’s mission, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on the college’s behalf against HUD, citing not only the directive’s clear attack on religious freedom but also the government’s complete disregard for laws requiring public comment before attempting to issue a mandate.

In a divided ruling, two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit claimed the college cannot sue over a rule ordering the government to fully enforce the mandate against the school – it must risk fines and lawsuits and wait for the government enforcers to drag them into proceedings to shut the college down. A third judge dissented, lamenting the threat to democracy when bureaucrats invent new laws and deny citizens their day in court.

So, on Feb. 27, the college asked the Supreme Court to reverse the 8th Circuit’s decision and let the college’s claims be heard.

This case is crucial for every parent who wants a safe environment for their children to learn and become adults while their privacy and safety are protected. Unless the decision gets reversed, College of the Ozarks will either have to violate the college’s religious principles and free speech rights – and betray the trust and safety of students – or open itself up to draconian enforcement that could tie it up in lawsuits for years and leave the college facing massive penalties.

Until the Supreme Court takes the case, citizens in the 8th Circuit are at the mercy of thousands of federal bureaucrats who have power over environmental, employment, business, and health issues and can operate largely without fear that judges will declare any of their rules unlawful.

Parents of college-aged children know we can’t guarantee the physical safety of our children from every threat that they could encounter. But we shouldn’t sit back and allow the government to determine what is safe and acceptable for our children. And the courts should not shut their doors to our complaints.

Schools like College of the Ozarks should be allowed to keep partnering with parents to provide students with a wholesome opportunity to learn, create, and grow.

Matt Bowman
Matt Bowman
Senior Counsel, Director of Regulatory Practice
Matt Bowman serves as senior counsel and director of regulatory practice at Alliance Defending Freedom, where he focuses on the impact of administrative law on religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and family.