MISHAWAKA, Ind. — A northern Indiana school is among the more than two dozen religiously affiliated colleges nationwide to receive exemptions from a federal law that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and employees from discrimination.
Bethel College President Gregg Chenoweth told the South Bend Tribune that the waiver doesn’t mean people who are attracted to the same sex are prohibited from attending or graduating from the Christian school in Mishawaka, just east of South Bend, which has an enrollment of about 1,800.
But he said they must be celibate, just as Bethel’s unmarried heterosexual students are expected to be. The same standard applies to employees, he said.
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“When we admit a student, we do not require a profession of faith or a declaration of sexual identity. We have students who are atheists and we have students who are gay,” he said.
Chenoweth said he asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in May to waive portions of Title IX that would apply to students and employees who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pregnant out of wedlock or in same-sex marriages. He cited Bethel’s affiliation with the Missionary Church, which prohibits homosexual activity and teaches that a person cannot change their birth gender.
Bethel employees are required to sign a covenant of lifestyle that they will adhere to the college’s Christian standards, including not engaging in premarital or extramarital sex.
Chenoweth said he requested the exemption in response to President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting discrimination in the civilian federal workforce on the basis of gender identity and in hiring by federal contractors on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
There was concern that the executive order might place Bethel in the position of being forced to violate its religious standards, Chenoweth said.
The request was approved in July.
Chenoweth said the exemption hasn’t made any practical difference in Bethel’s operations.
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