After some schools and universities in America sought specifically for an Education Act exemptions, so that they can continue discriminating against LGBTs, the federal government has announced that it will publish details of each exemption online in a move to hopefully create greater transparency.
Late last year it emerged that a number of colleges and universities that receive federal funds have applied for and obtained permission from the federal government in order to obtain exceptions to Title IX of the Education Act. The law, which came into force in 1972, means that schools using taxpayer money cannot engage in sex-based discrimination. The Obama administration maintains that this also protects LGBT students, much to the uproar of religious schools.
However, when that law was passed, Congress provided a loophole that so that religious schools could be exempt from Title IX based on their religious ethos. It became public knowledge last year that since the Obama administration announced its determination that Title IX covers LGBT students, a number of religious schools had applied for such exemptions. Estimates say that, as of December 2015, around 60 schools had been given waivers under the Obama administration.
Advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign and lawmakers such as Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said they were concerned that religious freedom exemptions were being used to perpetuate anti-LGBT discrimination.
Senator Wyden and other lawmakers subsequently wrote a letter to the Department of Education requesting that there be more transparency in the process so that, at the very least, the general public could know which colleges and universities were using these exemptions.
The Department of Education has now issued a response.
Buzzfeed reports that Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon, in comments made Wednesday January 20, has agreed to that call for transparency:
I appreciate your suggestion the we provide more transparency about the religious exemption requests received and [the department’s] responses. I agree.”
Lhamon added that both applications for the waivers and the government’s replies will be posted online “sometime in coming months” as part of the department’s broader push to increase transparency.
To be clear, this information was technically already open to the public but it wasn’t easily accessible. Now, the Department has said it will post the information in a way that is searchable so that the public can understand which schools are getting these exemptions and how the government has answered those calls.
The Human Rights Campaign has praised the move.
HRC President Chad Griffin, added
We have been alarmed by the growing trend of schools quietly seeking the right to discriminate against LGBT students, and not disclosing that information publicly. We are encouraged that the Department of Education is answering our call for greater transparency to help ensure no student unknowingly enrolls in a school that intends to discriminate against them.
We believe that religious liberty is a bedrock principle of our nation, however, faith should never be used as a guise for discrimination.”
However, this doesn’t fully answer the issue, namely why educational institutions receiving public money are being allowed to discriminate in the first place.
Unfortunately, to change that would require a change in the law and it is highly unlikely that the Republican dominated House or the stalemate in the Senate could muster enough consensus to do so. This compounds the litany of anti-LGBT student bills that are sweeping the country, and ones that particularly focus on trans students and their access to sports teams and changing and bathroom facilities.
Nevertheless, identifying the schools that are exploiting religious freedom protections to discriminate is a much needed step toward tackling this issue and for that reason the Department’s response is welcome.