Department of Education Expands Title IX Protections

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On August 25, 2022, Interfaith Alliance submitted a comment on a Department of Education rule change to Title IX. After years of falling short of its mandate under the Trump administration, President Biden’s Department of Education is taking steps to reform Title IX to ensure it protects all students, not just some. 

Title IX Makes Education More Equitable

Since 1972, Title IX has prohibited sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding, creating safer, more equitable environments for women and LGBTQ+ people by ensuring schools are proactive in combating sex discrimination. 

After Title IX, universities receiving federal funds could no longer refuse to admit women, expel pregnant and parenting students, or deny female students equal access to athletics. The broad scope of the amendment has also required schools to respond to and remedy instances of sexual harassment and sexual violence, making higher education safer and more accessible for all.

Supporting LGBTQ+ Students and Pregnant Students Through Cases of Harassment 

LGBTQ+ students have been insufficiently protected under Title IX, as many schools fail to adequately respond to cases of harassment, violence, unequal discipline, and discrimination. Insufficient Title IX protections for LGBTQ+ individuals prevent those students from receiving equal access to education by allowing discriminatory practices and policies to remain in place, leaving students with few ways to remedy instances of harassment and discrimination. 

In our comment, Interfaith Alliance commended the Department for offering distinctions, such as acknowledging the hostile environment created when students are ostracized by others for failing to conform to traditional gender stereotypes, that extend necessary protections to LGBTQ+ students, and provide processes to report and remedy harassment. Similarly, we commended the clarification of sex discrimination as it relates to pregnancy to include current, past, and potential related conditions, which would more comprehensively meet the needs of students.

Ensuring LGBTQ+ students and those with the ability to become pregnant are protected is essential to the promise of religious freedom; any institution that received public funding must use that funding to ensure all students are supported, not just some. The expanded definitions not only better define the type of discrimination students face but would also better protect each student’s right to equal access to education by providing schools with guidance to deal with discrimination cases. 

The Need for Consistent and Transparent Religious Exemptions 

Religious exemptions to Title IX have an important role in ensuring that religious institutions can operate in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs. Transparency and consistent application, however, are necessary to communicate institutional procedures and expectations to members of their community and the public. 

Prior notice of Title IX exemptions allows students to make informed choices about their education and safety. Without it, students will not know whether they may be treated differently than their peers because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their reproductive history, or their personal beliefs. Appropriate implementation of religious exemptions also protects schools, which would otherwise be unclear as to what actions would put them at risk for legal challenges or complaints. 

However, the proposed rule did not provide adequate guidance to institutions and students beyond the acknowledgment that religious exemptions are allowed under Title IX. Our comment urged the Department to clarify this process for institutions seeking religious exemptions to allow them to act in accordance with their beliefs and to ensure students are supported through cases of discrimination.  

As a matter of religious freedom, religiously affiliated universities are able to operate in a manner consistent with their religious doctrine. But students should be afforded the same ability to make education decisions based on their own personal beliefs.

A More Inclusive Vision of Title IX 

Students seeking higher education are often away from home for the first time. They are encountering new people, having new experiences, and discovering their own identities. Schools should nurture students throughout this process and ensure that community members of all beliefs, experiences, and identities can thrive. Through the proposed rule and further guidance, the Biden administration can continue to rightfully use Title IX as a powerful tool to ensure all students are treated with dignity and respect. Click here to read our comment. 

Learn more about how Interfaith Alliance works to advance true religious freedom for all.