A group of US Democrat Senators, including Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, on Friday took aim at schools that are seeking religious exemptions, and called for greater transparency and accountability after what they claim is a recent rise in the number of colleges and universities seeking religious exemptions under a law that protects students from discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The senators include, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Al Franken, D-Minn., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.
Congress first passed Title IX in 1972 to prohibit colleges and universities that receive federal funding from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. The law contains a provision that allows schools controlled by a religious organization to request religious exemptions. In 2014, the Department of Education issued guidelines making it clear that transgender and gender nonconforming students are also protected from discrimination under Title IX.
In the wake of the department’s guidance, the rate of schools seeking exemptions increased dramatically from only one school in 2013 to more than 43 schools in 2015, the senators claim, citing a report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) – the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the US.
In a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the senators asked the Education Department to publish on a publicly accessible website the names of all institutions of higher education seeking waivers under Title IX.
“At a very minimum, we believe students, parents, and taxpayers have a right to know when institutions of higher education – as recipients of tax dollars – seek and receive exemptions under Title IX as well as the justifications for those exemptions,” the senators wrote in the letter.
“It is critical that the federal government employ transparency in this matter as it will help guide students in making informed higher education decisions,” they wrote.
The letter was coordinated with Friday’s release of the HRC report that claims 33 schools sought and received exemptions pertaining to Title IX protections on the basis of gender identity. HRC estimates about 73,000 students attend those schools.
“There is an alarming and growing trend of schools quietly seeking the right to discriminate against LGBT students, and not disclosing that information publicly,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “We believe that religious liberty is a bedrock principle of our nation, however faith should never be used as a guise for discrimination. Prospective students and their parents deserve greater transparency, and we urge the Department of Education to take action by helping to increase accountability and to ensure that no student unknowingly enrolls in a school that intends to discriminate against them.”