College of the Ozarks, a Christian institution of education in Point Lookout, Missouri, is no stranger to difficulties. Since its founding in 1906, it has endured three devastating fires, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and much more.
Throughout it all, the institution never wavered in its commitment to raising up students who are prepared to work diligently and serve the Lord in all they do. And the Lord blessed that commitment.
Since its opening as a high school called School of the Ozarks, the institution has grown into a four-year college with over 1,500 students and more than 50 degree programs. Today, its Christian faith remains integral to all its operations.
But the Biden administration tried to force religious colleges to violate their Christian beliefs regarding what it means to be male and female. That’s something College of the Ozarks simply cannot do—nor should it have to.
Presbyterian minister Rev. James Forsythe founded the School of the Ozarks in 1906. His goal was to provide a quality education for children in southwest Missouri who could not otherwise afford one. With the help of the church, the School of the Ozarks opened in September 1907 for its inaugural school year.
While the school’s students were always hard workers, their dedication became clear during the depths of the Great Depression. Dr. Robert M. Goode served as school president at the time, and he called on the home economic students to help raise money to continue operations. Some students made fruitcakes to raise funds, and Dr. Goode secured $1,000 from donors with just the first six fruitcakes he sent out.
School of the Ozarks eventually began a transition to a four-year college, and it graduated its first class earning four-year degrees in 1967. It phased out its high school program that same year because public schools in the area had greatly improved.
The commitment to hard work that has been present since School of the Ozarks opened has come to be synonymous with the institution. In 1973, the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece referring to the school as “Hard Work U,” and the moniker has stuck to this day.
A new era
School of the Ozarks hired Dr. Jerry C. Davis as its president in 1988. President Davis instituted changes allowing students to work on campus instead of paying tuition. The school changed its name to College of the Ozarks in 1990, and it has become known around the country for providing a quality, Christian education without putting students in debt.
College of the Ozarks also re-opened School of the Ozarks as a classical laboratory high school in 2012, and in 2015, it implemented a full lower school. Today, students can attend the institution from kindergarten all the way through college.
All full-time college students at College of the Ozarks participate in the on-campus work program. Between credits earned from work, any federal aid awarded, and donations from supporters, College of the Ozarks is able to offer its students a quality education without charging tuition fees. Students can also work during the summer to pay for their room and board.
All told, these factors provide an opportunity for students unlike any other in higher education. And according to graduate MiKaela Wardlaw Lemmon, who served as the vice president of merchandising at Sam’s Club and hired fellow College of the Ozarks graduates, the work pays off.
“The preparedness some of these students have separates them from others in their generation,” MiKaela said. “It’s far outpacing what you’d expect from a tiny school.”
Dr. Davis retired in 2022, and College of the Ozarks hired Dr. Brad Johnson as its 17th president. Dr. Johnson said he knows the Lord directed him to College of the Ozarks, and he has continued to lead it toward the ultimate goal of glorifying Christ.
Biden administration threatens colleges
One would think that the government would want to encourage a quality education like College of the Ozarks provides. The college raises up hard workers without student debt who can immediately contribute to the workforce, and that is a good thing for society as a whole.
Sadly, the Biden administration is putting its own political ideology above the good the college is doing, and disrespecting College of the Ozarks’ First Amendment rights.
As a Christian institution, College of the Ozarks seeks to glorify God in everything it does. It looks to the Bible for guidance in all areas of its operations. The college holds to the time-honored Christian belief that sex is unchangeable, and it operates its dorms accordingly.
But on his very first day in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order redefining “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” This change carried with it many potential consequences, one of which became a reality three weeks later.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a rule change requiring housing providers, including religious schools, to open their sex-specific dorms, showers, and individual rooms, to members of the opposite sex, such as if a male identifies as female. This would force College of the Ozarks to violate its Christian beliefs, and it is a blatant breach of the First Amendment.
College of the Ozarks takes a stand
There are two major legal problems with the Biden administration’s attempt to change the term “sex” in federal law to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
First, Biden’s executive order changes the meaning of longstanding federal laws, and failed to seek any public input. The Fair Housing Act has never been interpreted to prohibit a college from limiting female dorms to actual females and vice versa. And the law requires the federal agency to submit any rule changes to the public before it imposes a drastic change like this.
With this sweeping mandate, Biden is effectively trying to change the entire meaning of the law without going through Congress or even letting affected colleges object in advance. This is a clear example of government overreach, and it cannot be allowed to stand.
Second, the First Amendment protects the freedom of religion for institutions like College of the Ozarks. Government officials cannot force religious colleges to violate their beliefs.
Under the Biden administration’s rule change, religious colleges could face fines up to six figures, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and (in some circumstances) even jail time for school officials if they continue operating dorms in accordance with their faith. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys sued the Biden administration on behalf of College of the Ozarks—to protect religious institutions from these illegal actions.
Continuing to stand for religious liberty
In July 2022, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled against College of the Ozarks in a split decision. They did not say religious colleges must let men into women’s dorms. But two judges claimed the college could not sue over the rule change. Instead, the judges claimed College of the Ozarks must wait until the government specifically opens investigations against it or other similar religious colleges. They relied on statements the government made in response to ADF’s lawsuit contradicting the original mandate and claiming that religious colleges might not be at risk from it. Religious colleges could never have obtained even that weak disclaimer from the government without the courage of College of the Ozarks to bring this lawsuit in the first place.
ADF attorneys appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Court unfortunately decided not to hear the case. This means, for now, that religious colleges might continue living out their biblical beliefs about male and female dorms, but that the Biden administration could decide at any moment to start enforcing this rule against religious schools. If that happens, this case or others could be refiled and eventually get back to the Supreme Court.
As a result, ADF remains vigilant. Even though the Court declined to hear College of the Ozarks’ case for now, ADF stands ready to sue again if the Biden administration starts enforcing this rule change on religious college dorms. And ADF is continuing to represent other organizations standing for their religious freedom, including Yakima Union Gospel Mission, Church of Compassion, and many more. But we need your help.
Will you give now to support ADF’s pursuit of religious liberty for all?
About Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, nonprofit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
ADF was launched in 1994 by 35 ministry leaders, including Dr. James Dobson, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. Bill Bright, and Larry Burkett.
With God’s blessing, ADF has grown from the prayers of those godly leaders to become a major force in the legal battle for religious freedom, winning nearly 80% of our cases, including 15 victories at the U.S. Supreme Court since 2011.