The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) has filed a motion to join the defendants in a class-action lawsuit brought by 33 current and former LGBTQ students at Christian universities. In addition to requesting to join the lawsuit, CCCU submitted a motion to dismiss it “based on the frivolous legal claims.”
“CCCU institutions subscribe to sincerely held biblical beliefs, which include specific religious convictions around human sexuality and gender,” said CCCU president Shirley V. Hoogstra in a statement. The colleges and universities “are transparent about their policies and behavior guidelines, which students voluntarily agree to when they choose to attend the institution. Campuses work hard to ensure that potential students understand their institution and its religious identity and want to be a part of that community.”
The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities Pushes Back
On March 29, 2021, 33 people who are current or former students at Christian universities filed the lawsuit, Hunter v. U.S. Department of Education, saying that their schools should be ineligible for federal funding because of policies that violate Title IX, specifically, by discriminating against LGBTQ students. The Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, and the suit names 25 Christian institutions, including Liberty University, Baylor University, and Azusa Pacific University.
Title IX is a federal law that protects people attending federally funded educational institutions from discrimination based on sex, but which also includes religious exemptions. According to the lawsuit,
The U.S. Department of Education is duty-bound by Title IX and the U.S. Constitution to protect sexual and gender minority students at taxpayer-funded colleges and universities, including private and religious educational institutions that receive federal funding. The religious exemption to Title IX, however, seemingly permits the Department to breach its duty as to the more than 100,000 sexual and gender minority students attending religious colleges and universities where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is codified in campus policies and openly practiced.
REAP has identified 200 Christian universities that receive federal funding, but have anti-LGBTQ policies.
The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is an association of more than 180 Christian institutions of higher education whose “mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth.”
Faith-based institutions are important for diversity in higher education, said Hoogstra in her statement, adding that students in racial minorities will be disproportionately impacted if federal funding is withdrawn from Christian universities. She offered Pell Grants as an example, saying that in the 2015-2016 academic year, 72% of the students who received a Pell Grant were Black, while only 34% were white. If faith-based institutions lose federal funding, the decision “would restrict student choice in an unprecedented way, preventing middle- and low-income students from being able to take their federal aid to these institutions.”
Despite dismissing the legal merits of the lawsuit, Hoogstra validated the concerns of the students involved in it and cited data indicating that while LGBTQ students face challenges at all American universities, such students tend to have better experiences at faith-based institutions than at ones that are not faith-based. She said:
We are committed to learning, growing, and deepening our understanding of how we can provide and strengthen support for all students on Christian college and university campuses, as CCCU institutions should be places where all students feel safe, supported, and welcome. We know the college experience can be stressful, and even more so for LGBTQ students who are working to understand how their sexual orientation or gender identity intersects with their personal faith.
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Correction: The original article incorrectly stated that the CCCU had already joined the lawsuit.