News (USA)

Supreme Court refuses to hear Christian college’s lawsuit about transgender student housing

The pride flag flies outside the US Supreme Court
The pride flag flies outside the US Supreme Court Photo: Scott Drake

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a private Christian college’s legal challenge to President Joe Biden’s executive order prohibiting LGBTQ+ housing discrimination.

On Biden’s first day in office, he signed a sweeping executive order instructing executive agencies to interpret federal civil rights legislation as already banning discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in many areas of the law, including housing discrimination.

A month later, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a directive updating its interpretation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to forbid LGBTQ+ housing discrimination based on people’s sex or gender, The Hill reported.

In April 2021, the Missouri-based College of the Ozarks sued the Biden Administration, stating that its Christian faith required the college to assign student dormitory housing based on students’ sex assigned at birth rather than their gender identity. The college was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an influential anti-LGBTQ+ legal group that opposes any expansion of LGBTQ+ civil rights and authors anti-LGBTQ+ “model” legislation passed by Republican-led state legislatures.

The AFD’s lawsuit said that Biden had denied the college its procedural right to comment on the HUD’s new interpretation of the FHA before it was formally implemented.

“That result has mammoth implications,” the ADF’s lawsuit said. “If HUD gets away with rewriting the FHA via the Directive, it has no incentive to ever go through the rule-making process. That eliminates judicial review until after an enforcement proceeding is complete and the regulated entity has already been harmed.”

However, lower courts disagreed, saying the college lacked legal standing to challenge the law because it faced no imminent enforcement risk.

The courts’ disagreement rested partially upon the fact that, in court filings, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said the HUD’s FHA interpretation didn’t address how the new policy would interact with the college’s religious exemption to Title IX. This federal law forbids schools from discriminating “on the basis of sex.”

Judges have previously ruled that private religious schools can discriminate against LGBTQ+ students because of their religious exemptions to Title IX.

“HUD has never filed a charge of sex discrimination based on a housing policy against an educational institution where, as here, the Department of Education has recognized that institution’s entitlement to a religious exemption under Title IX,” the DOJ wrote in a court filing.

While the College of the Ozarks could file a new case if the Biden Administration tries to punish the school for housing transgender students in dorms that don’t match their gender identity, the DOJ’s aforementioned court filing makes it seem unlikely that the Biden Administration will ever take that step.

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