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Christian university gets religious exemption to deny transgender student housing

Christian university gets religious exemption to deny transgender student housing

NEWBERG, Ore. — The U.S. Department of Education has granted a Christian university a religious exemption from federal anti-discrimination laws after a transgender student filed a discrimination complaint because the school would not allowing him to live in the men’s dormitories.

Jayce Marcus
Jayce Marcus

PQ Monthly reports that George Fox University obtained the exemption in its effort to deny the student, Jayce Marcus, a place in the campus’ single-sex residence halls on the basis that it is a “Christ-centered community.”

Portland attorney Paul Southwick filed a Title IX discrimination complaint with the DOE in early April on behalf of Marcus, a junior at the Christian university in Newberg, Ore., who has medically, socially, and legally transitioned.

Southwick said the DOE closed Marcus’ complaint earlier this week, granting George Fox an unusually speedy “religious exemption.”

Exemptions historically take years to get, according to Southwick, but George Fox received theirs in just a few months. He says the school applied for the exemption “in secret” while still negotiating the housing dispute with Marcus, and “a mere four days before Jayce filed his complaint” with the DOE.

“The university sought this exemption to preserve its right to draw on its religious convictions to handle situations related to students experiencing gender identity issues. Other colleges have received similar Title IX exemptions in the past,” George Fox said in a statement. “Providing appropriate housing for transgender students continues to be a challenge at religious and non-religious institutions across the country.”

Title IX, passed in 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. In 2010, the DOE issued guidance clarifying that Title IX also protects LGBT students from sex discrimination, which would apply to complaints such as Marcus.’

But the law also includes a broad exemption for educational institutions which are “controlled by a religious organization.”

School officials said their Christian theology makes it necessary for their residential facilities to be single gender.

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The exemption comes only weeks following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which many LGBT rights advocates fear will be used by religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT people.

“This is worse than Hobby Lobby because George Fox is largely funded by taxpayer money,” says Southwick, who added that he believes George Fox “is the first Christian college to ask the federal government for a permission slip to discriminate against transgender students.”

Marcus says he is “shocked and disappointed” that the federal government has given George Fox permission to discriminate against him, “and is allowing it to do so with federal funds.”

“I don’t understand it and I don’t think it is fair,” he said.

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