South Carolina evangelicals ask Governor to guard them from trans folk

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.)

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Presidents of seven evangelical Christian colleges are asking South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to protect their institutions from mandates on the use of bathrooms by transgender students. They want the Republican to use her platform to “promote religious freedom.”

The presidents warned in a letter delivered Monday that the Obama administration’s order requiring public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms consistent with their chosen gender identity could violate “the privacy and modesty of students” who object based on religious values.

Such mandates “could ultimately deny us the ability to fulfill our faith-based missions by taking away our freedom to hire and dismiss employees, provide health care for our employees, protect the privacy of our students in restrooms, showers, and residence halls, and deny our students the ability to use the federal and state financial aid to which they are entitled at faith-based universities,” they said.

The letter was signed by the presidents of Bob Jones University, Columbia International University, Charleston Southern University, North Greenville University, Erskine College and Seminary, Southern Wesleyan University and Anderson University.

Haley said she appreciated their input.

“South Carolina has a proud tradition of upholding religious freedom,” she said in a response provided to The Associated Press. “I look forward to working with the universities to make sure we continue to honor that tradition.”

With North Carolina facing economic boycotts and federal litigation over its law limiting discrimination protections and bathroom choices, a related effort failed in South Carolina’s legislative session this year, and Haley actively campaigned against the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lee Bright, who then lost his re-election bid.

But a federal judge in Texas recently favored the colleges’ position, blocking the Obama administration’s order and saying federal education law “is not ambiguous” about sex being defined as “the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.”

Kevin Caiello of the Palmetto Family Council, which distributed the letter, said the educators also were prompted to action by pending California legislation, which they fear other states could pursue as well.

Religious colleges in California have vigorously campaigned against SB1146, which would have allowed LGBT students to more easily sue religious schools for discrimination.

The bill’s sponsor removed language to eliminate a longstanding exemption from state anti-discrimination laws for religious institutions and potentially expose them to civil rights lawsuits. A weaker version would still require institutions to disclose any exemptions they assert from federal Title IX rules against discrimination.

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