Court Dismisses Lawsuit That Threatened Religious Schools
Update: Jan. 12, 2023 – A federal district court rightly rejected an unfounded assault on the religious freedom of faith-based educational institutions. Title IX, which applies to schools receiving federal financial assistance, explicitly protects the freedom of religious schools to live out their deeply and sincerely held convictions. A group of activists asked the court to strip that protection away from schools that educate the next generation and advance the common good. The court correctly concluded that the exemption doesn't violate any of the plaintiff's claimed rights. Read the press release.
For many families, where you attend college is a source of pride. Many people attend schools their parents and grandparents attended, and they hope to send their own children to that same campus. And for many people of faith, it’s important to attend a religious school.
But a lawsuit brought by an activist group threatened religious colleges and universities, seeking to strip financial aid from students who attend such schools.
In 2021, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (known as “REAP”) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education. REAP’s lawsuit demanded that the government block students from using federal funds at religious colleges and universities that believe marriage is the union between one man and one woman, that sex is reserved for that union, and that there are meaningful and enduring differences between the sexes.
With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, three religious institutions took a stand against this threat.
Who are Phoenix Seminary, Corban University, and William Jessup University?
Phoenix Seminary is a theological seminary that prepares and trains young men and women for Christ-centered ministry. Corban University is a private Christian college that seeks “to educate Christians who will make a difference in the world for Jesus Christ.” William Jessup University, another private Christian college, aims “to educate transformational leaders for the glory of God.”
These three schools—along with hundreds of religious colleges and universities nationwide—would have been affected by REAP’s lawsuit, as would the students who attend them. Thankfully, Phoenix Seminary, Corban University, and William Jessup University were not content to sit by and let that happen.
Hunter v. U.S. Department of Education
REAP, an LGBT activist group, wanted to prevent students from receiving access to tuition grants, scholarships, and federal financial assistance if they attend schools with long-held beliefs about marriage and human sexuality.
REAP’s lawsuit would have forced religious schools to either abandon their beliefs or lose the many students who rely on federal financial assistance—an impossible choice. And students would have been barred from pursuing a higher education at colleges and universities that share their faith.
But this lawsuit was about more than that.
Ultimately, REAP was claiming that legal protections for religion are unconstitutional in general. In fact, the stated purpose of REAP’s parent organization, SoulForce, is to “Sabotage Christian Supremacy.”
ADF intervened in this lawsuit on behalf of Phoenix Seminary, Corban University, and William Jessup University to defend their constitutional rights, and thankfully, a federal court eventually dismissed REAP’s lawsuit.
In January 2023, a federal district court dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting REAP’s assault on the religious freedom of faith-based educational institutions and their students.
“The court correctly concluded that Title IX’s religious liberty exemption doesn’t violate any of the plaintiffs’ claimed rights,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman in response to the news.
Our Constitution and multiple federal statutory provisions protect the right of religious people and organizations to exercise their religious beliefs freely. If religious schools don’t have the freedom to operate according to their beliefs and religious students don’t have the freedom to attend a school that shares their beliefs, then that threatens freedom for us all.
- March 2021: REAP filed its lawsuit against the Department of Education.
- April 2021: ADF attorneys filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Phoenix Seminary, Corban University, and William Jessup University.
- October 2021: A federal district court issued an order allowing the three religious schools to intervene in the lawsuit.
- January 2023: The district court dismissed REAP’s lawsuit, rejecting the activist group’s assault on the rights of faith-based educational institutions.
The bottom line
The government shouldn’t strip students of their financial aid just because they attend a school with widely held religious beliefs.
ADF team members contributed to the writing and publication of this article.