This strong federal decision for religious freedom is a wonderful gift for Catholic educators and the entire Church.
Last summer I wrote about the urgency of holding a “crucial line of defense for Catholic education” against false ideology and attacks on Christian morality – and now a key victory has been won before a federal court!
On December 13, a panel of three judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California is First Amendment protected in its right to uphold the religious and moral standards of its members. He agreed with the lawyers of the most faithful Becket institute and dismissed the appeal of two former students who were fired from the seminary for violating agreed standards by entering into same-sex civil marriages.
While the dismissal of two students to a non-denominational seminary may not immediately seem relevant to Catholic schools and colleges, in fact the case threatened to dismantle a crucial protection for religious education. The lawsuit challenged the religious exemption in Title IX, federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, and the availability of the exemption for schools and colleges that are not directly controlled by a religious sect – such as many private Catholic schools and almost all Catholic colleges are not.
Why should this be important for Catholic educators? Surely they have no problem with preventing sex discrimination? Catholic schools and colleges have enthusiastically employed women, expanded opportunities for women’s sports, and worked to combat harassment and sexual assault.
In fact, the victory in this case now allows Catholic educators to stand up for women firmly and against the irrational demands of gender ideology, which would erode many of the gains made for women under Title IX.
The entire federal effort to prevent gender discrimination was reversed in 2020 with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton county, which distorts the meaning of “sex discrimination” for employment law purposes to include homosexuality and self-identified sex, even when this is contrary to a person’s biological sex. Although Bostockapplies only to labor law under Title VII, activists and the Biden administration attempt to comply with Title IX with the demands of LGBT ideology.
It only harms women, giving biologically male students access to athletic competitions and women’s toilets. It creates other serious problems for Catholic education by allowing teachers and students to ignore moral standards regarding same-sex marriage and same-sex behavior.
Nonetheless, as long as the strong religious exemption of Title IX is maintained, religious schools and colleges can defend their beliefs and protect the traditional separations between male and female facilities and athletics. The exemption stands in the way of radical attacks on religious education. That’s why, over the past year, we’ve seen multiple legislative and legal efforts by activists and the Biden administration to weaken or dismantle the Title IX religious exemption.
Serious threat ruled out
One of these now unsuccessful efforts was Maxon Theological Seminary c. Fuller. The plaintiffs seized on the wording of Title IX’s religious exemption which says that an eligible school or college must be “controlled by a religious organization.” Although the United States Department of Education has historically exempted from Title IX clearly religious institutions that are non-denominational (like Fuller) or legally independent of a religious body (like nearly all Catholic colleges and many Catholic schools), Complainants attempted to strip these institutions of their religious freedom and forced them to comply with the Biden administration’s bizarre interpretation of sex discrimination.
It would have been devastating for Catholic education. Last June, the Cardinal Newman Society and several faithful Catholic schools and colleges joined with the Christian Legal Society and other religious groups in a brief friendurging the Ninth Circuit to reject the student appeal. Signatories included Belmont Abbey College (North Carolina), Benedictine College (Kansas), Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), Lumen Christi High School (Indiana), Marian High School (Indiana), Regina Academies (Pennsylvania) and the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (New Hampshire).
Other signatories representing a variety of beliefs included the American Association of Christian Schools, the Association for Higher Biblical Education, the Association of International Christian Schools, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Jewish Coalition for religious freedom and the Synod of the Lutheran Church of Missouri.
“It is dangerous and anti-American to deny part of religious freedom to non-denominational and independent religious institutions,” was my statement to media reporters last summer. “Such a policy would unconstitutionally discriminate against many American religious schools and colleges, including Catholic schools and colleges which are true to their beliefs but legally independent of the Catholic Church.”
The amicus brief called on the Ninth Circuit to recognize that an independent institution controlled by a board of directors with deeply held religious convictions and a religious mission is sufficiently “controlled by a religious organization” for the purposes of the Title IX exemption. .
Praise be to God, the tribunal unanimously agreed. “For more than 30 years, the DOE [U.S. Department of Education] argued that the law does not contain “an independent requirement that the controlling religious organization be a separate legal entity from the educational institution,” the court noted. He upheld the 2020 district court ruling and concluded that the plaintiffs “could not allege any additional facts to save their challenge to Fuller’s differential treatment of same-sex versus heterosexual marriages, as Fuller’s actions fell within squarely from the religious exemption of Title IX. . “
Catholic educators and the entire Catholic Church have received a wonderful gift with this strong federal decision for religious freedom. We live in a nation that still celebrates Christmas and enables Catholics to teach young people the truth of Christ – and for that we can be thankful in this happy season.