When President Joe Biden took office in 2021, he didn’t waste any time before implementing policies that threaten our most basic freedoms.
Case in point: on his very first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order redefining “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”—a sweeping mandate with a whole host of implications.
One of those implications became reality three weeks later, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a rule change. Under the new rules, religious schools are forced to open their sex-specific dormitories, including dorm rooms and showers, to members of the opposite sex.
As you can probably imagine, this didn’t sit well with many faith-based institutions. That included College of the Ozarks, so its administration decided to file a lawsuit against President Biden and his administration.
Read on to learn more about College of the Ozarks’ case.
What is College of the Ozarks?
Founded in 1906, College of the Ozarks is a religious school in Missouri that aims to provide its students a Christian education. The college’s vision is to develop citizens of Christ-like character who are well-educated, hardworking, and patriotic.
No students pay tuition at College of the Ozarks. Instead, they work on campus to help pay their way through school. The remainder of the costs are covered by donations.
Because of this unique arrangement, in 1973 a Wall Street Journal article referred to the college as “Hard Work U.”—a label that College of the Ozarks has since embraced.
At College of the Ozarks, the Christian faith is at the center of everything. For example, the college holds to a Christian belief that biological sex is not changeable, and it operates its dorms accordingly.
But according to HUD’s rule change, colleges and universities nationwide—including faith-based institutions—would be forced to open girls’ dorms to male students.
And the rule change wouldn’t just force these schools to open up residence halls by floor; it would also force them to place males in girls’ dorms as roommates and to allow them to use communal bathrooms and showers.
That was something that College of the Ozarks couldn’t—and shouldn’t have to—accept, so with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, it filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration.
The lawsuit explained that the HUD directive contradicts the clear wording, meaning, and historical interpretation of the Fair Housing Act, which confirms that “sex” means biological sex.
In addition, the lawsuit argued that the agency violated procedural requirements by not allowing public notice and comment, and that the directive violates the constitutional right of College of the Ozarks and similar religious institutions to operate consistently with their religious beliefs.
When federal agencies overstep their authority and threaten a college’s religious freedom, that college has the right to defend its God-given liberties in court. Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit incorrectly ruled that College of the Ozarks must wait to file a lawsuit until the Biden administration levies punishments against it.
ADF attorneys asked the Supreme Court to review the 8th Circuit’s decision and protect the college from the threat of unjust punishment, but the Court declined to hear the case. The government’s directive thus remains in place and unchanged, and courts have yet to rule on the directive’s lawfulness.
“The U.S. Supreme Court left this issue unresolved,” said ADF Senior Counsel Julie Marie Blake. “The Biden administration must be held accountable, and Alliance Defending Freedom will continue to confront government overreach. College of the Ozarks brought this challenge for one reason: the Biden administration was attempting to force them to open their dormitories to members of the opposite sex.
“Though the high court chose not to review this case, we are hopeful it will soon take up related cases—both challenges to the broad overreach of the Biden administration and the government’s repeated attempts to remove from law any real distinctions between males and females. It is wrong to force schools to open girls’ dorms, bedrooms, and shared showers to males, and ADF will do everything in its power to ensure that religious colleges remain free to protect the young women who attend their institutions. No matter what happens next: College of the Ozarks will continue to follow its beliefs.”
- April 2021: Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of College of the Ozarks.
- May 2021: ADF attorneys represented the college in federal court.
- June 2021: The district court dismissed the college’s complaint, not ruling on the legality of the mandate but holding that the college cannot yet bring its lawsuit.
- June 2021: ADF attorneys asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit to halt the Biden administration’s directive. The request for the injunction while the case proceeded came after the district court had declined to issue one and dismissed the case. The 8th Circuit granted ADF’s request to expedite the case.
- November 2021: Oral arguments took place in the college’s lawsuit.
- July 2022: The 8th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the college’s complaint.
- September 2022: ADF attorneys filed a petition with the 8th Circuit that asked the full court to hear the college’s lawsuit against the Biden administration after a three-judge panel dismissed the college’s religious freedom concerns. This petition was denied.
- February 2023: ADF attorneys representing College of the Ozarks asked the Supreme Court to review the 8th Circuit’s decision in the college’s lawsuit.
- June 2023: The Supreme Court declined to hear College of the Ozarks’ case, leaving the issue unresolved.
The bottom line
The government cannot force schools to open girls’ dorm rooms to males.
ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Bangert explains the College of the Ozarks lawsuit on Family Research Council’s “Washington Watch”: