Conservative Christian schools were surprised to learn that the Department of Justice under Joe Biden will “vigorously” defend the right of religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students.
Most gay rights groups had expected the usual boilerplate “defense of the law” statement from Justice. But in a court filing in the Hunter v. the U.S. Department of Education case, the Biden administration said it “shares the same ultimate objective” as the conservative Christian schools named in the case.
At issue are 40 LGBTQ students from religious schools suing the Education Department over federal funding of their schools despite saying they are discriminated against. But the DoJ will now apparently defend the law that grants an exemption from civil rights protections to religious schools.
Needless to say, LGBTQ groups are unhappy.
“What this means is that the government is now aligning itself with anti-LGBTQ hate in order to vigorously defend an exemption that everyone knows causes severe harm to LGBTQ students using taxpayer money,” said Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project. The project filed a suit on behalf of the students in March. “It will make our case harder if the federal government plans to vigorously defend it as they have indicated.”
But the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, whose members include many of the schools named, said in a May motion that the Biden administration couldn’t be trusted to adequately defend the schools’ beliefs, and “may be openly hostile to them.” Its motion asked to intervene and be part of the case.
However, the Justice Department filed an opposition on Tuesday to CCCU’s request and that of several other Christian schools to join the case. It said the Department of Education and the Christian schools “share the same ‘ultimate objective’ … namely, to uphold the Religious Exemption as it is currently applied.” The parties’ shared interests, the filing said, are “identical.”
It’s possible that this is a ploy by the Biden administration to forestall the participation of the council in the lawsuit, believing they would give a far more “vigorous” defense of the exemption.
Indeed, how do you determine if the Justice Department lives up to its promise to “vigorously” defend the exemption? How much of an effort will the Biden Justice Department make to actually win the case?
The council is right to worry about that.
It wasn’t immediately clear the Biden administration’s thinking on the issue that is at the center of several major recent Supreme Court cases: tensions between religious liberty and anti-discrimination laws. President Biden is also in the midst of pressing for passage of the Equality Act, a sweeping measure that would add gender identity and sexuality to the groups protected under the Civil Rights Act, while significantly weakening exemptions for religious groups and people.
So Biden is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He will “vigorously” defend an exemption he’s trying to weaken by the passage of the Equality Act?
There’s no doubt the Justice Department will defend federal law. But it’s equally certain that the Biden administration isn’t interested in winning the case.