Title IX was revolutionary when it was enacted in 1972 to keep sex discrimination out of education. Since then, it has been used effectively to force colleges and high schools to deal with sexual violence and make campuses safe for women, help keep girls and women in STEM and protect gender non-conforming and trans students from discrimination.
There's a catch, though -- schools run by religious organizations can apply for exemptions. Exemption requests used to be rare, but in the last 18 months alone, waivers have been granted to 27 religious colleges and universities.
A recent report from The Column explains that when Title IX was passed, "Congress added a small but powerful provision that states that an educational institution that is 'controlled by a religious organization' does not have to comply if Title IX 'would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.'"
The report goes on to explain, "These 'right-to-discriminate' waivers were relatively rare until the last year. A handful were requested in the 1980s and 1990s, many by religious schools who wanted to ensure they could prevent women from being hired in leadership roles without running afoul of discrimination laws."
Then, in 2014, the Obama administration put schools on notice that Title IX also applies to gender identity, so schools that accept federal funding would be barred from discriminating against transgender or gender non-conforming students.
"In response to that guidance and several lawsuits," The Column report continues, "conservative Christian leaders have begun positioning the schools to expel transgender students," in addition to taking discriminatory actions toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and gender-non-conforming students and staff -- like expelling them for being gay or expressing a gender identity not listed on their birth certificate.
So far 27 waivers have been granted in 17 states with at least 9 additional waiver requests pending. The Column report includes a full list of schools that have applied for waivers, along with their application status, and notes that the recent influx in waiver requests "comes at the same time conservative Christian groups are hosting trainings and providing documents that schools can use to prove their 'sincerely held religious beliefs' about LGBT people."
The report also states that "total enrollment of these schools tops 80,000 students, and nearly $130 million in federal research grants and student aid flowed to these institutions of higher learning in 2014."
That's a whole lot of tax dollars. If colleges and universities feel comfortable receiving federal funding, shouldn't also be required to follow federal laws banning discrimination?