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The Department of Education Faces a Class Action Lawsuit Over LGBTQ Discrimination

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The Department of Education Faces a Class Action Lawsuit Over LGBTQ Discrimination

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Recently, 33 students came together via the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) to file a class action lawsuit against the Department of Education (DOE) for failing to take action to denounce and prevent discrimination of LGBTQ+ students, particularly in universities that receive government funding.

This lawsuit claims the DOE is required to act when students report discriminiation based on LGBTQ+ matters.

The opening line of the official class action complaint seeks to end the DOE’s alleged “complicity in the abuses and unsafe conditions thousands of LGBTQ+ students endure at hundreds of taxpayer-funded, religious colleges and universities.” These abuses and unsafe conditions include but are not necessarily limited to allegations of conversion therapy, expulsion, housing and healthcare denial/restrictions, in addition to abuse and harassment. According to the complaint, the DOE is duty-bound under Title IX to protect LGBTQ+ students at any academic institutions that receive taxpayer funding, regardless of the religious exemption included in the law.

Title IX’s religious exemption makes it inapplicable only when the application would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization.

Title IX’s religious exemption may only apply in matters that are incongruous with key tenets of the religion in question; for the universities mentioned in this lawsuit largely billed as Christian universities, this has resulted in mistreatment of LGBTQ+ students. The lawsuit alleges that this mistreatment has been overlooked by the DOE, despite the Department’s role to regulate and enforce Title IX and other civil rights matters in academic environments.

REAP, the collective of students and professionals filing this lawsuit, states on its website that its goal is to “...assert the constitutional and basic human rights of LGBTQ+ students...” by ending the “...abuses perpetrated under the religious exemption to Title IX at thousands of federally-funded schools, colleges and universities across America.”

The lawsuit argues that religious exemptions should not be permitted in universities that receive public funding.

Interestingly, the complaint does not argue for the complete dismissal of the religious exemption; instead, the lawsuit argues that publicly-funded religious universities should not be allowed the same exemptions as privately-funded universities. The complaint sums up this belief as follows:

“Religious exemptions may be constitutionally permissible, or even compelled, when the government regulates private action, even where some amount of harm to members of the community is involved. However, when the government provides public funds to private actors, like the colleges and universities represented by Plaintiffs, the Constitution restrains the government from allowing such private actors to use those funds to harm disadvantaged people.”

The students are seeking a declaration that Title IX’s religious exemption is unconstitutional, in addition to other damages.

The lawsuit seeks for the DOE to be prohibited from granting further religious exemptions to Title IX, rescinding all prior religious exemptions, and that the DOE treats Title IX complaints from publicly-funded religious colleges the same as complaints from non-religious institutions. Finally, the complaint seeks an award of attorneys’ fees and any other relief with the Court deems appropriate.

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